Bursting Blooms Link Modernity and History in Gordon Cheung’s Decadent Still-Life Paintings
In 1634, during the Dutch Golden Age, an unprecedented financial phenomenon began in the form of skyrocketing prices for rare and fashionable tulip bulbs. By 1637, the speculative bubble collapsed, and while the plummeting price of tulips may have bankrupted a few investors, it didn’t take a steep toll on the overall economy, unlike the U.S. housing bubble that spurred a global crisis and led to severe recession in 2008.
“Tulip mania” is a term still used today to describe when the prices of assets—such as mortgages or technology—rise exponentially from their intrinsic or general market values and present a threat to economic stability. For London-based artist Gordon Cheung, Dutch still-life paintings provide a lens through which to explore ties between historical socio-economic systems, modern capitalism, and China’s new power on the global stage. “In part, they are about the rise and fall of civilisations, as well as the romantic language of still-life painting: futile materialism and fragile mortality reflected by the transient beauty of flowers,” he says.
Like much 16th and 17th-century Dutch painting, the artist’s still-lifes brim with symbolism and references to historical events. The linen surface is collaged with pages from the Financial Times, literally grounding the work in data and news about the global markets. The painting above, for example, references the Old Summer Palace of Beijing, also known as Yuanmingyuan, which translates to “Gardens of Summer Brightness.”
The residence of Qianlong Emperor and his successors, the Summer Palace was home to celebrated gardens and an enormous collection of historic treasures and antiques dating back thousands of years. French and British troops captured the palace in October 1860 during the Second Opium War, which led to mass vandalism, looting, and eventually, total destruction.
In “Gardens of Summer Brightness,” the two holy mountains of Sinai and Song flank the vase in the background, suggesting a collision that may have led to the fractured pillar. A map of the park punctuated by an architectural ruin tops the pedestal, and the mille-fleurs or “thousand flowers” style, a popular motif in the Qianlong period, decorates the vase. The vessel also contains botanicals by the emperor’s court painter Giuseppe Castiglione and sunflowers to symbolize the face of the sun as a deity and energy source.
Combining inkjet printing methods, acrylic paint, and sand to create a variety of textures and three-dimensional features, Cheung’s flowers appear to delicately float across ethereal surfaces. He assembles each bloom by applying thick paint onto plastic that can be peeled off when dry and collaged onto the canvas. He is interested in what he calls the “Ozymandian eventuality” of grandeur and power to physically and metaphorically crumble over time, using sand to represent impermanence and the constantly shifting nature of the human condition.
Cheung’s solo exhibition The Garden of Perfect Brightness opens at The Atkinson in Southport, England, on June 3. You can find more on his website, and follow Instagram for updates.
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Spikes, Interlocked Rings, and Bold Bulges Sprout from Megan Bogonovich’s Otherworldly Ceramic Botanicals
“There is a tree on my road that has been cut very strangely to accommodate a power line, and I think about that tree a lot,” says Megan Bogonovich, who envisions the otherworldly potential of human touch on the environment through playful, botanical sculptures.
Based in Norwich, Vermont, Bogonovich recognizes nature’s immense capability for adaptation and strength in seemingly inhospitable spaces. “The whole dandelion growing out of a pavement crack thing,” she says. Her works embody transformation and abundant growth, and unusual colors, shapes, and textures arise in surreal combinations. With bulbous bases, spiked protrusions, and interlocked petals, the works imagine “the batty possibilities of what could be growing in the universe or what might be the first thing to sprout up after an environmental disaster.”
Rooted in play and the “ceaseless goofiness” of reproduction, the sculptures evolve throughout a lengthy process. Bogonovich begins by hand-building small geometric and organic forms like cones, tubes, ovoids, and textured patches made with drilled holes, cuts, and everyday objects like buttons, which she then casts in plaster to make a mold. “If I cast 30 molds one day, by the next day I have a set of slip-cast tinkertoy-type parts that I can alter and bend or duplicate. It’s a lot of labored build-up to get to a point where I can work spontaneously and impulsively with a material that would otherwise want planning,” she says.
These malleable forms are then fired and readied for glazing, a slow, meticulous process that involves several layers and bouts in the kiln at varying temperatures. “The sculptures are matte white when they first come out of the kiln. I let a lot of pieces build up before I start glazing,” Bogonovich says. “I get used to being surrounded by ghost flowers, so when the tide changes to color it feels like a big shift in the studio.” Like nature, glazing is unpredictable, and the pastel pinks, bold oranges, and mottled hues add a whimsical, playful element to the works. “I live in the woods in Vermont, and at this time of year, there is so much green. It’s nice to imagine bright yellow tree trunks or hot pink maple leaves,” she says.
Bogonovich works with Kishka Gallery & Library, where she recently held a solo show, and has sculptures on view through May 20 at SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York. Find more of her pieces on her site and Instagram.
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Gem-Encrusted Creatures Encounter Otherworldly Ecologies in Jon Ching’s Vibrant Oil Paintings
A seahorse nestles in amongst cherry blossoms, and a cone of violet flowers morph from a glistening amethyst in Jon Ching’s uncanny ecologies. In jewel-toned oil paintings, the Los Angeles-based artist’s hybrid creatures sport regal headdresses or merge their bodies with gems and crystals. He often focuses on a central character in a contradictory environment, such as an owl among gourds, a flamingo wading between cacti in a wetland, or a bird hatching from a Fabergé egg.
Recently, Ching started creating what he describes as “quieter” compositions, panning out from central portraits to unveil the enigmatic wonder of nature as a whole. Landscapes and the details of the animals’ surroundings take precedence and sometimes border on optical illusions, like the luna moths tucked in with ginkgo leaves in “Nagamorphose” or a dewy spider web made of diamonds in “Arachnitite.” Increasingly highlighting species that are misunderstood or get a bad rap, his new paintings “are less about the animal itself and more about the beauty that exists in the world,” he says in a recent article in American Art Collector, sharing that he wants to “push back against our cultural biases about certain animals.”
Many of these pieces are part of Ching’s solo exhibition Terra Brio at Haven Gallery on Long Island, which continues through June 4. He also just released a print edition of “In Plain Sight,” which you can find in his shop. Discover more of his work on his website, and follow him on Instagram for updates and insights into his process.
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For the ‘Flower Men’ of Saudi Arabia, A Handcrafted Tradition Heralds Beauty and Health
In the rapidly modernizing ‘Asir Province of southwest Saudi Arabia, the Qhatan tribe preserves an enduring tradition. The men of the group, which is said to descend from Ishmael, son of Abraham, fashion vibrant flower crowns made from marigolds, jasmine, herbs, and other plants, wearing the handcrafted ornaments as symbols of pride and joy. Comprised of dried and fresh materials, the headpieces are donned for celebrations, to ward off sickness, and for their beauty, and the practice spans professions and age.
Omar Reda, a Lebanese photographer currently living and working in Saudi Arabia, traveled to the province in January 2021, where he met some members of the tribe. The country “holds a treasure trove of hidden gems, he says, noting that he’s interested in documenting the vast cultural diversity of the Arab nation. In his photographs of the “flower men,” Reda brings the viewer into direct confrontation with the subjects, documenting their crowns, facial expressions, and garments with close precision. The intimate portraits highlight how the uniqueness of each individual emerges through a shared practice, providing a common point of connection throughout the community.
Reda frequently travels to photograph communities and their cultural practices, and you can find more of his portraiture on Instagram. (via PetaPixel)
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Casey Curran’s Gilded Skeletal Sculptures and Kinetic Blooms Explore Bodily Degeneration
How does the connection between our bodies and memories change as we age? Artist Casey Curran (previously) attends to this question in a new series of kinetic sculptures. Titled Carrion Blooms, the works reference degeneration and decay and how the body’s stamina wanes. “We can all recall those days when our energy seemed endless, twenty-four-hour benders where we somehow managed to cram everything in; work, school, hobbies, friends, and family. The time felt limitless with possibilities,” Curran says.
Hand-cranks animate laser-cut insects and flowers made of mylar, which flutter, blossom, and retreat to their static positions. Emphasizing inevitable transformation and the fleeting nature of life, the artist likens the gilded skeletal structures to scaffolding, a prized foundation “to place the future on…Carrion Blooms is about how we change over time, how we use our days differently with age, and what it means to let go of the past,” he says. “What will be left when we are gone, and who will remember the arrangement we made?”
Carrion Blooms is on view from April 1 to May 6 at Heron Arts in San Francisco, and you can find more from Curran on his site and Instagram.
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Flower Press Studio’s Colorful Compositions Preserve Botanicals and Bouquets for Posterity
Knowing that flowers only blossom for a short time, there is romance in their ephemerality. Naturally, we want to preserve their characteristics; we bottle up floral fragrances, and the practice of pressing flowers dates back to time immemorial. It’s thought that the Japanese first elevated the process to an art form with a 16th-century tradition known as oshibana. The practice spread worldwide, and by the late 19th century, it was a popular pastime in England and the U.S. Flower Press Studio keeps this tradition alive through preserving delicate petals, stems, and fronds beneath glass.
A thriving small business run by Rachel Parri and Keith Kralik, Flower Press Studio began as a hobby that quickly blossomed into a full-time occupation. In 2019, they purchased a house in Denver and xeriscaped the front yard, a landscaping method that reduces the need for irrigation by planting flora naturally suited to drier climates. They planted vegetables, flowers, and added two beehives. By the summer of 2021, the garden was producing quantities of calendulas, sunflowers, poppies, and other wildflowers, and Kralik began to press them. He then started designing and gluing the flattened blossoms onto paper and constructing hardwood frames. By the end of that year, demand had grown to a point where the business was formally born.
“Wildflowers are our favorite, but that’s probably because we are in a state that grows absolutely sensational wildflowers,” the pair tells Colossal. “But really anything with color—we look for variety. Size, shape of petals, dying flowers, straight stems versus twisty-turny ones, foliages… non-perfect flowers are some of the best.” A bridal bouquet, for example, typically takes about three hours to deconstruct piece by piece, then it takes several days—often weeks—to make sure the flowers have properly dried and flattened into the desired shape: “We check the presses regularly throughout the first week, going through every page of flowers and adjusting petals, changing out all paper, chipboard, cardboard, and using alternative methods to get excess moisture out.”
Parri and Kralik want to make sure their work remains sustainable and environmentally responsible, and they often practice on flowers that would otherwise be discarded after weddings. The pair look forward to working with flower farms both locally and further afield, collaborating with other makers and designers, and focusing on producing limited-edition prints and online workshops.
You can follow updates on Instagram, where the studio often shares before-and-after images of the elaborate, reinterpreted bouquets.
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