Laura Jones: Wildflower

As skilled with a pair of secateurs as she is a paintbrush, Laura Jones’ past moonlighting as a florist, while she studied at COFA, has informed her still-life paintings. Jones collects flowers, vases and sets up little vignettes for her observation- based studio practice. There’s an ease to her arrangements and composition, which is offset with vibrant colours and energetic marks that bring a liveliness to her work, moving it into the contemporary. A talented portrait painter, Jones says she was drawn back to flowers for her ‘Wildflower’ exhibition due to their symbolism. “We hold a nostalgic attachment to the European flowers that have been with us since early white settlement,” says Jones. “Our fondness for them comes from a romantic ideal of ‘home’, still visible in our own gardens, detached from the bush… So in contrast to the reverence for the rose, we claim the wildflower when we want to identify ourselves as Australian, they are expressions of our Australian-ness, a tool to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world.”

Can you tell us a little bit about ‘Wildflower’
It’s a show about flowers, but also about Australia, who we are, and about how our wildflowers can tell a story about us. In art, wildflowers have been used in Australia as a way of exploring and defining place and identity.

What’s your process?
I work observationally, so usually I’ll set up a still life by arranging some flowers and objects. I spend a long time doing this, it is my ‘drawing’. When I think it looks like it will make a good painting, I’ll start mapping out a composition directly onto the canvas with thin paint. I build up the work from there, adding things, subtracting things, getting it really messy, then simplifying it. I like accidents, and inventing things that do and don’t make any sense. I think about the paint a lot.

What made you swap to painting flowers?
Well, I was a florist when I was at uni, and I grew up in the Blue Mountains, so I’ve always been drawn to the wonder and colour of flowers and plants. I didn’t work it out straight away, but painting flowers suits me well. It makes so much sense to me.

How has a past working in a florist influenced your practice or work?
I think making a physical arrangement, and doing that over and over again, made me know my subject very well. Holding the flowers, getting to know their shape, looking at them closely for hours on end, anticipating what would come from market, and just generally being involved in the tasks required of working with them – all these things meant I could know them well to paint them. There is a cycle and renewal when working in flower shops because the flowers don’t last, that is the beauty of them. Bringing that turnover into a painting studio is good too. It keeps me moving forward all the time.

If you could own one artwork, what would you pick?
I’ll pick an old and a new painting. For something old: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, not the ones you’d think but the ones that are in The Met in New York with the blue background. They are overwhelmingly beautiful, I felt so sad looking at that painting. It’s so strange that the marks in the painting look like they were made yesterday; there is a palpable vulnerability in it. For something new: I’d pick a painting or video by Allison Schulnik, I love her work because she has a big imagination, and sees the weird and wonderful world of plants.

Olsen Irwin
2 to 20 March, 2016
Sydney