When I began working on this body of work last spring, I knew the exhibition would take place during Valentine’s Day. That got me thinking about fresh cut flowers, and how we use them to mark special occasions and how flowers also represent a fragile life form that may be threatened or endangered. In my daily life, I tend to look towards nature to occupy my mind – during a run in my neighbourhood or a stroller walk with my son, I find it really satisfying to observe my neighbours’ gardens and the weeds and native plants that grow wild along the sidewalks.
I also started looking at the still life paintings, or “vanitas” paintings, from the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries. The word vanitas, from the Latin, means emptiness, and it was used as a reference to the Christian ideal of casting off earthly possessions and pursuits. What I found interesting about these paintings is that the way they were painted (extremely lusciously, with rich, seductive realism) creates a desire in the viewer, which is in direct opposition to the message they were trying to convey. This felt akin to the feeling I get in a flower shop, I swoon for flowers and the chance to compose an arrangement is like an addiction with me! But I am aware that sometimes flowers are foraged, and so may be on the endangered lists. Sometimes the flowers come from places that provide very poor working conditions for the employees. And sometimes buying flowers seems too frivolous of a use of hard earned money. So I find myself wondering if I really should buy the cut flowers and what impact it makes in the world.
So I’ve incorporated careful drawings of local plants and weeds into each painting, as well as the outline of a cut flower arrangement. Not wanting to contribute to the problem of endangered flora, I photographed the local plants, and drew from the photos rather than cutting them and bringing them home. For the flower arrangements I drew from photographs of arrangements found on Instagram (after seeking permission from the flower shops to reference their online images). These are among the first few layers, on top of which I add patches of colour, line and geometric shapes, layered to the point of almost overtaking the plants and flowers.
I always find that what I’m going through in life seeps into the work, and so in the studio, I found myself aiming for a coral reef aesthetic because the denseness and variety of shapes in a reef seem to equate to the full-on emotions and experiences that are a large part of being a new parent! Also, the fragility and need to protect our endangered reefs seemed a fitting subject to layer onto the flowers, that also echoed my maternal instincts – not to mention the feeling of sometimes not being able to keep my head above water, and sometimes wishing for a quiet refuge from life’s craziness that I imagine I would find under the ocean! Some of the geometric shapes were inspired by my son’s toys, but also are a nod to building, construction and progress within a neighbourhood – a response to the concrete jungle that seems to overtake the green spaces in any city.
The titles of each piece were taken from weather scripts, and are meant to hint at the wild weather we are facing these days as a result of global warming. The weather references create a sense of dread and hopefully make the viewer feel the need to try to reverse the negative effects of our reliance on material possessions. It requires a measured calm to resist the temptations of our consumerist society. And indeed, parenting requires an ability to take measured steps to respond to difficult and confusing child behaviour and to stay calm, above all else.