Messy Histories: Flowers

The inspiration for this week really isn’t that complicated. The sun’s been shining, and if my social media feeds are to be believed the entire world has decided to take up gardening. Personally I’m wary: experience taught me just how bad I am at keeping plants alive. Nevertheless even I was out yesterday, working with last year’s pots to find what has survived the onslaught of the weeds. A few hardy souls had made it, and a couple more may have a chance for resurrection. Anyway, away from my “garden” and especially as we’re all looking for positivity in lockdown, it’s the peak of Spring and flowers are popping up everywhere.

Flowers take on lots of meanings in art. Sometimes they’re deeply and specifically symbolic, and can carry meanings from lust to death. They can also just be flowers, represented for no other reason than their beauty. As part of nature, a perennial and universal source of bringing beauty into the world, their history of appearing in art is long and abundant. My first example comes from the tradition of European folk art, which uses a lot of flowers. I borrow from this a lot in my own drawings. I’ve long admired folk art and the drive it represents to bring beauty into the world through even the most simple objects. Flowers literally bring the colours of the outside in, and painting them onto objects keeps their lively spirit alive.

Flowers can be simple, or intricately detailed. I don’t like all flowers in art – there’s a fine line between beautiful and fussy, and flowers can easily tip over into flouncy. To be honest this point is one of those divides that I can’t define on paper, but know when I see it.

This week I don’t really have an overarching narrative. I just intend to show some flowers in places they’ve been used for all of these purposes – the symbolic, decorative and perhaps even over-decorative. It’s definitely the safest way for me to interact with the plant world; my pots can breathe a sigh of relief.

I’ve also decided not to repeat any artist in this entire series, at least for as long as I possibly can. This may mean that a couple of famous examples of flower painting are missing. But I’ve already made some fantastic discoveries on the ride of this project (my favourite being last week’s Loewensburg square, and so who knows what else being forced to look beyond the obvious will turn up?

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