Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Queering the Past and the Present: The Art of Home by Julian Croft and HALO

Art gallery interior featuring a large hanging sculpture of a banana above assorted paintings on the walls. In the foreground, a long table displays a graffiti-covered surface, adding a modern and urban touch to the classical gallery setup.

Home Is Never Dead, It Isn’t Even Home opens at Mestizo Institute of Arts and Culture in Salt Lake City on June 1.

The exhibition’s title, Home Is Never Dead, It Isn’t Even Home, is a reference to a quote from William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun, which goes, “the past is never dead, it isn’t even past”—and in this installation by SLC artists and partners Julian Croft and HALO, the home that is in the past very much lives on in the present. Opening at Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts on June 1, the exhibition is a split mix of the couple’s respective works, but also their styles and mediums, which bleed into one another the way couples’ personal items and past-acquired habits always do when living together.

“There’s elements of me that trickled into Julian’s work, there’s elements of Julian that definitely trickled into mine,” says HALO. Croft not only introduced HALO to abstract painting, but helped HALO to stop painting for other people, to take on different lenses. HALO points to “Sunflowers,” where a pouting, distressed-looking young clown-child peers out of red splotches, as an example of Croft’s willingness to make work that isn’t easy to take in. HALO credits a series of nudes in the collection to “the build up of Julian,” and trying to capture the sweetness of their relationship while also opening themselves up to self-exploration. “There’s a little bit of a love story happening amongst the show as well, just like with me and Julian being together. That’s kind of a huge way that we even got together, was through art-making,” HALO explains.

The pair have worked on a series of immersive installations as “Side Eye Sets,” where unexpected places become a portal to a queerer way of being in space. When it comes to Home Isn’t, HALO mentions how being queer in any “home” is “you know, obtusely queer,” likely in reference to the haze of heteronormative associations that come with American conceptions of “home” life. Queering the home is as much to do with the pair being comfortable in their identities in their home, as it does with simply building a home that reflects what they want to be surrounded by. Every adult goes through this at some point—what do you take with you from the home of your childhood, and what do you leave behind? For HALO, it was something as American as straight marriage and apple pie: in the center of MICA, gallery chairs are gathered around “Game Show,” a mixed media piece where a TV is pasted over with HALO’s abstract paintings.

Two people sitting on a gray couch in a bright art gallery with large windows and plants. One person is wearing a gray sleeveless top and has tattoos, while the other person, in a gray t-shirt with colorful mesh wrapped around their legs, has curly hair and tattoos.

Salt Lake City artists HALO, left, and Julian Croft, right, enjoy the domesticity of their exhibit, Home Is Never Dead, It Isn’t Even Home, at Mestizo Institute of Arts and Culture.

“I have like, a Matilda upbringing where I just hated watching TV my whole life, but my family’s been obsessed with the television,” HALO explains, sitting next to Julian on a loveseat opposite the piece, their legs draped in a throw blanket made of red, green and yellow produce bags. When a neighbor left a broken TV in the hallway in front of the pair’s apartment door, HALO described it as almost triggering, after having successfully removed TVs from their own adult life. But eventually, HALO decided “to make it something that I would watch, which is like this art piece that I made—reflections of my life, my daily practices, like this time that we had like this infestation of fruit flies, there’s like that little trap … a barista, the dog we got, the spider that I caught…  like all these things are just like my life, but it’s more something I’d rather be watching than a game show.”

And while the television doesn’t make the cut as a household object worth keeping around, the rest of HALO’s work is full of easter egg-like clues to the everyday objects they do value—like the ladder installed in the gallery window, which is also a piece of adaptive furniture in the pair’s home, used as a Christmas tree at Christmas. The way HALO seems to treasure some simple home-bound objects locks in with Croft’s half of the work, which looks backwards at other kinds of “ordinary” fixtures of the home, including people.

A gallery wall with three artworks. From left to right: a black and white abstract drawing, a dark painting of a large coffee press against a colorful background, and a drawing featuring architectural and various everyday elements.

Works by HALO, from top left: “Shoot Your Shot,” “Scrub Mommy” and “God is in the Grind”

A large painting featuring an interior scene with a man in blue pajamas seated in a chair in a living room, surrounded by brown furniture and a yellow wall. The artwork is rich in detail and color, depicting a personal and lived-in space.

Julian Croft, “Your Grandfather as Liminal Space”

Croft’s diverse range of paintings references real images from their childhood, “dealing with the home and family that you come from.” The paintings are colorful and abstract, sometimes with a ghostly face peering out, sometimes coalescing into defined form. One of the most striking pieces is the painting where a depiction of Croft’s grandfather finds him blending almost too perfectly into the vintage patina of a living room, like furniture himself. “The title of that one is ‘Your Grandfather as Liminal Space,’ which I feel is exactly what I’m trying to say with all of these—like people as liminal space, people as this kind of in-between stage,” Croft explains. “I wanted people to be able to project feelings and emotions and their own families onto these people in these spaces. I really wanted it to be something that you could see yourself in.” The paintings themselves are done on found or second-hand canvases—new work painted over old.

In HALO’s large nude painting, “Ode to the Ofuro,” HALO and Croft are bright spots sharing a bath in a yawningly dark room. “When we talk about being in the home and getting to do things the queer way, or ‘my way now,’ getting that reclamation, it’s a huge moment for me to, like, share a bath,” HALO says. Looked at together, Croft’s configurations of homes past are like shadows hanging docilely behind HALO’s depictions of an amended present, the couple’s shared and consciously-cultivated domesticity.

HALO, “Ode to the Ofuro,”


Home Isn’t Dead, It Isn’t Even Home, Mestizo Institute of Culture and Art, Salt Lake City, June 1 – July 6.  Opening reception, Saturday, June 1, 6-10 pm.

All images courtesy the author

Tagged as: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.