Tarp No. 19 (11/24/21) 1st Ave S & S Hudson St

Size: 24 x 36 in.
oil on canvas

Please contact the gallery for more information on this work.

I’ve always been interested in shelter – designing my own space, seeing how other people live, and learning about the homes of animals different from myself. I’m especially interested in nomadic shelters, and in rethinking the merits of what is permanent vs temporary. I don’t assume the sedentary conditions of society are good just because we’re used to them, especially when examined from an ecological perspective. My vision is a culture with expansive views of what shelter can be. I wish we could better accommodate people’s innate desire to create spaces that feel like their own.

This series of paintings depicts the disposable plastic tarps used to cover RVs parked in the margins of neighborhoods throughout Seattle. I intend these paintings to point to absent subjects – vehicles and people – in a way that bears witness to the resilience of the unhoused living in our community, while also underscoring the systemic failure that makes tarps ubiquitous.

Plastic tarps are integral but detrimental to every human sheltering endeavor. Their primary value is in their disposability; we use them for temporary construction controls, temporary disaster relief, and anything needing temporary cover. The irony is that they are made of durable, long-lasting polymers that will probably outlast human civilization. And our belief that tarps are clean, convenient, and safe is belied by their refusal to end up in landfills, rather, they shed uncontainable bits and pieces of themselves in alarming amounts along the way.

I think there’s no going back to a world without plastic, and we’ll never adequately house everyone. But I do want to learn something by getting closer to both the material and the people we shun. I’m working towards being neither dystopian nor nostalgic and thinking about what is possible here and now. - JoEllen Wang on her Tarps series


JoEllen Wang CV

2024 Artist Statement

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