Chris Russell– Wild Flowers

November 2nd - December 14th, 2019

About the Artist

Available Work

Working loosely within the genre of landscape painting, I explore my relationship with the natural world.  I have been trying to create an artistic process that necessitates spending time outside, something vital to my general wellbeing.  Starting from my experiences outside, my observations playfully interact with experimentation and the formal act of painting.  I am interested in a painting that becomes an image of the process of its creation; exploring tension between illusionistic realism, gesture and the materiality of paint.  I aim for a balance that works as a painting and relates to the chaos and balance that is omnipresent in the dense layered flora of the Northwest landscape.

 

Notes on Wild Flowers by the Artist

These landscape paintings investigate particular outdoor places that I have recently experienced in the Northwest. The diverse climates and specific plants, lichens, rocks and fungus are the subjects of my paintings. The complex symbiotic relationships of these organisms interweave into maximalist landscapes. Starting from experiences outside, my larger landscape paintings are done within my studio, building up through gestural layers of oil paint. The work flows from realism to mysticism, as I play with the medium of oil paint and incorporate studio time with observation outside. The show reflects my exploration of and bewilderment by the wild beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Following each landscape painting is a still life painting derived from that landscape. The plants and rocks in each arrangement correlate specifically to the other painting. There is a symbiosis between the pairs of paintings, each piece informing the other. Diving into the illusion of representational landscape painting invites make believe, as I forage for materials within the painted landscape.

These still lifes connect historically to Dutch still life painting, which grew into a prominent genre in the 1600s as growing urbanization of Dutch society sparked interest in the home and materialism. The still life paintings in this show feature flower arrangements set up within incomplete or fictitious interiors. The composed, idealized spaces reference interior design and product styling that has us longing for the unattainable— an uncluttered pristine and calm life where we can stop and smell the flowers, while simultaneously embedding desire for more stuff. These interiors show natural materials, cut from the landscapes, beautiful patterns of wood grain and stone that are polished into the objects playing pedestal to their unrefined versions, i.e. sticks and stones. Rather than challenge or vilify the making of objects, especially as I am using materials to make these paintings, they instead hint at the dichotomy of my desire to be submerged in undisturbed nature, and my materialistic tendencies. 

Another influence on these paintings is the Japanese art of flower arranging, Ikebana. While the long tradition of Ikebana is vaster then I fully grasp, the aesthetic sensibility has influenced me. In the same way I find comfort in rustic, minimal design, I am drawn to the gracefully imperfect silhouettes of these flower arrangements. My father was born in Japan when his military parents were stationed there, and while he was too young to have memories of the place, my grandmother always made flower arrangements influenced by their time in Japan. Having inherited some Kenzan, or flower frogs, from her, I often start the day working in my studio by arranging flowers from our garden. It is a time when I am not making for show but for myself. For this show, this morning ritual has led to new content for my paintings, just as camping and collecting rocks has before. 

Connected to Ikebana is the widely appropriated Japanese aesthetic tradition Wabi-sabi, a world-view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The modest, rough, asymmetric simplicity embraced by Wabi-sabi has a growing appeal in an age of slick plastic that is anything but transient.

Transience also related back to Dutch vanitas paintings. These still life paintings symbolize the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, displaying contrasting symbols of wealth, death and the ephemeral like rotting exotic fruit and wilting flowers. The lavish vanitas of the Dutch golden age—whose signifiers of wealth and colonial conquest were a blatant exposé of the inequalities of colonialism and early global capitalism, subtly seem to have been aware of the precarious and dark side of their indulgence. Dutch trade was not mutually beneficial like the symbiosis between fungi and wild orchids, but instead parasitic like the worms in the decaying fruit of their lavish still lifes.

Contemporary sensitivity may have taken strides since the Dutch golden age, but the seductive allure of materials still prevails. As I venture outdoors to paint from sublimity, I bring a deep respect for nature, tempered by the disillusionment that my relationship is not symbiotic.  While my paintings avoid historic symbols such as the skull and hourglass, there is a contemporary sense of doom and fleeting time when pairing the natural world with our materialism. 

 

More information on the upcoming Solo Exhibition to come! Stay Tuned.