'FLOWERS' - Stephen Brameld & Jay Staples
In FLOWERS, Stephen Brameld and Jay Staples present two gardens.
One is a garden they grew; the other is painted. Within the gallery, we must navigate a reconstruction of the first garden, which the artists have transplanted here – we must walk around it and look through it to view their painted assemblages.
Through this act of reconstruction, and not only because of it, the exhibition itself becomes a garden. If a garden is a place for contemplation, where beauty has been cultivated and where feelings and ideas have been transformed into things that in some way live, then yes, this exhibition is just that.
In it, we see the soft hues of sunburned grasses or of a swampy enclave; the red of a clay-rich dirt; the deep yellow of pollen. Dabs and gestures of purple, pink, red and blue borrow from the botanical. But this is not necessarily an exhibition about flowers or their symbolism. It is an exhibition about painting itself, about process; and painting is a process of encoding. As marks are made – here, on board – thoughts and emotions are transferred and conveyed, sometimes incidentally, unconsciously, even against the painter’s will. Brameld and Staples’ marks are robust but in some parts of some paintings also effortless. In this way, the works feel fleeting, as if they might escape us were they not anchored here in this garden. But the reverse is also true: this garden frees the works, which in many ways are also heavy. The lightness of long grass counters the geometry and the layers of the paintings, some of which are affixed with large timber panels or are the product of combining multiple boards in a marriage of marks. The textures and smells of this garden are at once grounding and lifting, which helps one to see.
Flowers are scattered across this garden, the real and the painted. They are conduits, both for the artists’ own expression and for the viewer’s experience of making meaning of the works.
Isn’t that always what flowers are?
Flowers are beauty, they are decoration. They are symbols of love and resistance and revolution. We look to them, offer them, in memory, as medicine, as messages from one to another, encoded and loaded. They are afterthoughts and anticipations and artworks. Flowers can be healer, harbinger, haute couture.
Yes, flowers are always conduits, always ripe for our interpretation even as seeds and buds; we feel through them. In full bloom they enthral us; as they wilt, we weep.
In her final spring, Emily Dickinson posed the question, If we love flowers, are we not ‘born again’ every day? If the rose’s scent can ignite the heart’s flame, if the yellow of a sunflower or the white of jasmine can bind a people, if a single stem can fill a void; then, yes, such love might offer us eternal renewal, as well-tended earth does the flower itself.
But I digress. Here I am, thinking only about flowers (or am I?) while the artists want me to think about painting (or do they?).
Maybe thinking itself is the point here; the squiggly lines of wonder we follow like digging for roots. Just like painting, thinking is a process. Actually, I see now, thinking and painting – or making – are one in the same. Making paintings, making meaning, making a garden, making a world.
And in this world, Flowers, the world Stephen and Jay invite us into, there is much to see. Things hide but they also appear, maybe it just depends how we look. Immediately here on my right – the criss-cross of patio lattice? And on my left, a ladybird. Two hats? Animal tracks? Across the way, rich patches of colour that could be flowers themselves but also could be creatures of the make believe – unidentifiable as living things yet somehow very much alive. Right again, now, in the second room, an organism – a germ? – or the earth, an eyeball, a cricket ball. Now I emerge before a group of larger, heftier assemblages, dotted and spotted and smeared, and it’s not until I desire rest and slowly turn back on myself that I am met by the curiosity of two mainly white pieces that oppose them. These works offer respite; a sense of symmetry but also none. Like the grass, they feel light.
Is that a mushroom? A snail?
Perhaps not. Yet, I can wonder, and all of a sudden I’m eight and it’s summer and I’m kind of bored, in the garden of my family’s holiday house – the house is somehow both too clean and also smells, doesn’t have our stuff in it, and the garden is unfamiliar. There are pines growing and the soil doesn’t seem real. There are snails everywhere, their silk trails like thick saliva. I collect them up in an old ice cream container and leave it by the back door for no reason. When I come back to find them, the snails are gone.
Where am I? Why am I here?
This memory is stored in me.
What of this is real?
Yes, a whole world was transported into this room when Brameld and Staples hung their works and planted their garden, and then I walked in with another one, and so did you. The living plants share qualities with the works – not just colours but also composition and a certain elegance or flair. The two gardens merge, here, and our sense of where things start and finish and what’s what becomes blurry too. In this state of suspension, we can just look, absorb, and perhaps, if we aren’t too tired, seek.
Emma Pegrum (Journalist, creative producer)
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