44 DIGITAL STILL LIVES
This series started from two responses to Camouflage. One was to return to more traditional or mainstream subject matter after a series devoted to modern warplanes. The other was to continue the interest in nature, underlying Camouflage and the preceding series, Endangered Species. At some level I suppose I am building toward a series of open or rural landscapes, but the concept is not quite there yet. In the meantime the humble, not to say banal genre of still lives of flowers, suggests a less ambitious step. Flowers are so cultivated it is hard to know what is ‘natural’ about them, apart from their life, sometimes not even that. They are used to signal all kinds of sympathies, albeit briefly. We say things through flowers, through choice of colour, shape and scent, occasion and place, both as social ritual and private gesture. There is supposedly, a language of flowers. We favour the flowers that speak to us, for us, delicately, boldly, presently. My pictures join that conversation, modestly.
Although there a lot of them, the series was intended as a minor one, chamber works, in a sense. Not everything has to be epic and profound. They were quick to do – mostly throughout October – and relatively easy. They are firstly digital prints and very few would gain much through painting, indeed would surely lose their Photoshop polish and intricacy. And I have no real preferences for scale – they could be 30 or 100cm in height, anywhere in between – all that is covered in the file settings, as I understand it. I’m happy to comply with any demand from dealers or collectors on that score. For the moment they exist purely on a screen.
The works appear in order of five sections really. The first group (numbers 1-14) are pretty much contemporary domestic arrangements on tables or shelves. The next group (15-19) are directly based upon historical works, notably, Fantin-Latour and Jan Van Walscappe, a 17th century Dutch painter. There is also a generic nod to early twentieth century School of Paris (19). These are my Post Modern feint I suppose, a touch of the Glenn Browns perhaps. The next ten works (20-29) take a more fanciful approach to contemporary floral arrangement, very much digital caprices on photographic sources. Then there is a group (30-34) that press spatial orientation into abstraction and are perhaps the most painterly. Finally works 36-44 play around with the location of floral tributes. These were inspired by the sight of flowers left at the scene of roadside tragedies and other public spaces. I have run with this one some distance. For some reason some of them ended up in or around cars.
Notes continue at the bottom of the page.
If numbers 40 to 43 hark back to my Car People series, in general Saying Flowers echoes concerns with presentation blending into representation, found in a number of other series. Flowers are not only patiently engineered to produce things like a blue rose, but all-but-indistinguishable replicas in plastic or cloth are used for more permanent fixtures, while digital photography and 3-D modelling smoothly combine to exaggerate and exalt in flowery rhetoric. This presents a challenge to picturing ‘just’ flowers, deprived of all other presentation, in possession of all other presentation. This layered aspect to nature or essence was also dealt with in the series Deep Shopping, Acquired Taste, Serenades and Sculptures. Saying Flowers gives the theme a digital makeover. 30 is the only work to actually use a retail setting, taking up the visual merchandising of Deep Shopping, but Saying Flowers stresses nature more literally than earlier series, takes on a much more traditional or entrenched genre.
Colour is largely restrained throughout the series as a way of cooling or distancing the subject. I felt the work needed to be less ‘natural’, less exuberant, as a way of standing outside the practice to some extent and to see flowers saying rather than be them. It was a formal or framing device in other words, but looking at them as a group I realise they also give the series a withdrawn, sad quality. I am reminded that the French for still life is nature morte. For this reason I also dedicate the series to my late mother, who loved flowers and their arrangements dearly.