Still Life: Contemporary Australian Painters
Amber Creswell Bell
Thames & Hudson
‘I feel that there is a magic in painting, particularly within the still life genre, which captures the timelessness of a story laid out in objects – a fleeting shadow, a blossom wilting, all caught in a brushstroke.’ – Mirra Whale.
In this beautifully designed art book simply titled ‘Still Life’, Amber Creswell Bell presents the work of 41 contemporary Australian artists whose artistic practices encompass or include the genre of still life painting. The large-format publication, comprised of short essays and stunning photographic reproductions of still life artworks on full bleed and centre page spreads, exhibits a range of painterly styles, subjects, philosophies, and artistic motivations, and invites connection with each of the artists with in-studio portraits and studio shots.
Since the 16th century, commonplace objects, and curios, either staged in composition or happened upon by chance, have inspired artists to frame the seemingly ordinary in the everyday in such a way that the observer may experience nostalgic evocations of time and place, sentimental recollections of memory and belonging, interludes of quiet contemplation, be enchanted by the mystery that lies beyond the frame, or the simple joy of seeing reflections of beauty in otherwise unremarkable objects.
Traditionally, still life imagery depicts flowers in decorative vases, jugs, bottles and finely crafted ceramics on the folds of soft drapery, bowls of fruit, spreads of fresh produce and game, various items of personal regalia, and other objects of domestic life, producing imaginations of the human experience, as well as more simplistic portrayals of the ordinary. In the darker tones of vanitas and memento mori styled compositions, skulls, coffins, wilting flowers, feathers, religious icons, taxidermy animals, and various other curiosities pose to remind us of the fragilities of life.
The artists profiled in this book: John Baird, Kate Bergin, Fabrizio Biviano, John Bokor, Keith Burt, Cressida Campbell, Tom Carment, Lucy Culliton, Jonathon Dalton, Jane Guthblen, Tsering Hannaford, Katherine Hattam, Dean Home, John Honeywill, Robert Malherbe, Kiata Mason, Anh Nguyen, Jude Rae, Lucy Roleff and Mirra Whale, among many others, bring a fresh contemporary vision to the 500-year-old genre with their own uniquely personal and symbolic reflections of life in Australia today.
‘My still life works are pure and untainted by narrative. They are simple expressions of self-contained beauty with no greater purpose than just being,’ says Angus McDonald. Kiata Mason explains that her paintings connect her to her female ancestry, ‘I think my work is distinctly aligned with a lineage of very strong women and carries with it not only my stories but also those of many generations before – and hopefully leaves room for some still to come.’
With a nod to the ‘traditional conventions’ of the ‘still life genre through art history’, Kate Bergin’s dreamlike imaginations bring magnificent creatures of the wild into the domestic setting. While Julian Meagher’s Goon Bag (2016) series looks at our ‘relationship and rituals with alcohol.’ ‘I’m probably quite proud to have elevated the lowly goon bag to a place of reverence,’ he muses.
Kirsty Francis is an arts writer based in Sydney.