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Andrew Raftery: Handmade Wallpapers

In the fall of 2018, artist Andrew Raftery and his partner Ned Lochaya moved into their new home, the Powder House, in Providence, Rhode Island. Located in Providence’s historic College Hill neighborhood, the Powder House, built circa 1765, originally served to hold gunpowder during the American Revolution. Struck by the rich and storied history of his new home, Raftery, whose practice engages in autobiographical narrative and the use of historical drawing, painting and printmaking techniques in a study of social psychology as an observer of contemporary culture, immediately began considering the artistic potential of a house that perfectly sits in the crosshairs of his existing interests in art’s historical longevity and contemporary relevance.

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Installed in his new home, Raftery’s four sets of handmade wallpapers follow an existing pattern within his practice that ties his work to reflect autobiographical developments in his personal life. The wallpapers are arguably a conceptual expansion of his previous project, Autobiography of a Garden on Twelve Engraved Plates, a series of twelve engraved ceramic plates that study Raftery’s own psychology via the annual stages of cultivating his garden.

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These plates reflect eight years of work, research, and reflection, almost a decade’s worth of ceramics, paintings and installations, as well as countless hours spent molding and caring for the actual garden. The garden itself is a carefully constructed artwork within this project, and in this way, the artist both lives and recognizes himself in the growing art around him.

“Living inside these patterns has been fascinating. They are prints that cover a room. They break down the walls and offer open vistas. The repeats are conducive to contemplation.”

Within the scope of this original project, Raftery designed a hand-printed letterpress wallpaper with patterns inspired by mustard greens to accompany the presentation of the plates. Raftery was so taken with this new medium that he continued to elaborate the ideas behind the Autobiography of a Garden project in four new wallpapers depicting each season of the year. The Powder House not only provided the perfect outlet to live with these works, and to apply them to a lived structure, it also allowed the artist to design, build and tend a new garden to share with the Providence community.

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Applied to the walls of Raftery’s home, the wallpapers literally add another layer to the house’s story, tethering the historical to the contemporary. By using traditional printing techniques to stay true to the style and fabrication of antique wallpaper, Raftery effectively adds his presence to the house’s history without altering the nature of its long-standing historical and physical relevance within the city of Providence, thus gently shifting the house into an artwork in which he both lives and recognizes himself.

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