Peer into the backyards of Chris Schiavo's youth and you'll find a surreal landscape of brightly-hued plants, weathered lawn furniture, and costumed children. Taken over a 10-year period in Queens, New York, the images in "Backyard" look like ordinary snapshots of a typical 1980's neighborhood.
In "Star with Apples," a lone section of white picket fencing stands among fallen apples, its dark shadow painted on the lawn. Created before Photoshop, and before digitally editing images became norm, these theatrical frames combine constructed installations with existing environments. Schiavo treats her photographs like a painting by deliberately adding props, people, color, light, and shadow. In "Grapevine" she tints edges of leaves with day-glo green and sky blue vegetable-based paint and snakes garden hoses through the yard, mimicking the shapes of the orange and red vines in a very deliberate rendering of her backyard.
Now at ArtHaus in San Francisco until September 30th, "The Backyard" has been shown in the Yale University art gallery, On the Way in New York, and select works from the series are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art.
Sculptural pieces by landscape architect Deanna Glory are installed alongside Schiavo's images in ArtHaus' installation. Rather than recreate Schiavo's backyard scenes, Glory sought inspiration from the shapes and forms in them. "We decided that it would be great to turn the show into something beyond the photographs," says Gallery Director James Bacchi.