Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Being compelled to represent flora in art has a long history

Capri  by Joseph Stella

Recently I visited the fascinating HUMAN FLOWER PROJECT via the blog 'not all those who wander are lost' of  South Australian based textile artist (botanical alchemist) of enormous talent and renown India Flint.

botanical alchemy on the line and in the book form - a must see!


The Human Flower Project is an international newsgroup, photo album and discussion of humankind’s relationship with the floral world. We report on art, medicine, society, history, politics, religion, and commerce. Written and photographic submissions are welcome.
Since its inception in September 2004, the Human Flower Project has been non-commercial, focussing rather on research, news gathering, commentary, and visual documentation. I hope to present worldwide perspectives on this topic and welcome contributors of all ages and nationalities. Julie Ardery

This Project is the brain child of Julie Ardery - a sociologist and writer in Austin, Texas. I was overwhelmed by the wealth of material at this site... and suggest a good visit when you have time. I know  often we like to shown a lot of images and not need to wade through the text... blogging after all lends itself so beautifully to the visual arena of life.

Anyone drawn to flora in art-making and design ..... this site is a little like adding rich nutrients to your garden of ideas...  here is something to mine and to ponder. Seriously worth a look!

From the mourners of a Neanderthal man buried with flowers in 60,000 B.C.. to today’s megawatt floral designers on HGTV, people have turned to flowers out of anxiety, necessity and joy.
By studying flowers, we look into human emotion and value. Since the flower trade is global, and has been for centuries, by following the circuit of plants across the world, we track international relations and economics.
Seeing how artists represent flowers, we re-experience what it is to be living temporarily, alongside life in many forms different from ourselves. Julie Ardery

I bookmarked numerous articles but will share this today!

First up:  In Architecture, Ancient Plants Grow - (archive 16 feb 2009)  an article written by Russell Bowes who looks back several thousand years to the papyrus, palms, lotus and acanthus still rooted in the world's building styles. Bowes is a garden historian and lecturer based in London.

Stylized papyrus blooms top columns  Ramesseum—Luxor, Egypt
Photo:via wiki

By Russell Bowes
Ornamentation of a building is not strictly necessary.  Doors, windows and walls function just as well plain as decorated.  Yet for thousands of years, people have turned the structural parts of buildings into naturalistic and stylised depictions of local plants and flowers.
Was this for the joy in decorating plain surfaces?  Or did the leaves and fruits have deeper meaning? Perhaps ancient buildings speak to us in a language we no longer hear, with words we no longer understand.

File:Hathor with sacred eye in papyrus.JPG
Goddess Hathor stalks through papyrus plants, from Papyrus of Ani
Photo: via wiki

The earliest Egyptian builders worked in a landscape inhospitable to trees.  Thin soil, negligible rainfall and constant desert winds don’t support large stands of timber; thus, buildings constructed entirely of wood were extremely rare.  In the millennia before the widespread use of stone as a building material, with wood at a premium and with relatively crude hand tools unsuitable for working what little timber was available, the ancient Egyptians used more abundant materials which were more workable with the tools they possessed. 
The Egyptians staple building material was made from bundles of reeds, woven with palm fronds for added tensile strength and liberally smeared with layers of mud from the Nile. Palm leaves, however, are not completely flat but curve at the tip, and these curved tips were often left poking free of the structure at the tops of walls, forming a curved ‘architrave’ between the uppermost section of the wall and the roof. In centuries to come, when walls were made of stone blocks, this curve would be translated into stone, becoming the cavetto cornice which is such a distinctive feature of Egyptian architecture.  Often painted to resemble a row of palm fronds, they served constantly to remind the later Egyptians of their architectural heritage. 
Read more by clicking on the website above and going to the
archives for the date I posted... for some reason this in not opening as per usual at the article page. I thought this excerpt below was a fascinating reminder of the difference between originating and copying ideas...  the Romans subsuming the Greek cultural legacy.
The native flora of Egypt and Greece profoundly influenced the buildings each culture created.  The effects were both stylistic and symbolic, with each country’s buildings honouring their gods and paying homage to indigenous creations myths.  The Romans, having subsumed the forms of Greece into their own culture, with sometimes little or no understanding of the ideas that lay behind them, exported their adopted architectural styles around their empire.  The use of the principal elements, in decorative terms, reappeared throughout time and around the world.
Years ago I did my own appropriating of ancient forms as part of an investigation of how intrinsic symbols were in the ancient world. I was interested in the perrenial fascination with form  - the way that symbol still speaks to us even when meaning is lost or not apparent. Staying 4 months in Greece in 1987 and travelling to Egypt the following year I was able to indulge in my passion for these ancient cultures at some length.

Sophie Munns: 'ancient , but reverberating still'

The other article I wish to highlight  JOSEPH  STELLA'S  RESOLUTION  is posted on the 13 of january 2009.

This article brought to mind the bloggers who make a resolution to do a painting a day or something similar. Apparently Stella also did this - Im not sure for what length of time - perhaps throughout his life. What stands out for me is that he felt such a strong necessity to 'buck the system' whilst at art school (and no doubt afterwards). Painting flowers was forbidden where he studied and steel girders were definitely the order of the day. Julie Ardery writes this after becoming aware of the 'human flower project' as she puts it that Stella embarked on.

“...that my every working day might begin and end, as a good omen, with the light, gay painting of a flower.”
Joseph Stella called this his “devout wish” (My Painting, 1946)—synonymous, we’d say, with a resolution.
We came upon Joseph Stella’s resolution this fall, visiting the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His articulation of a human flower project was printed on the wall label below Neapolitan Song, painted in 1926 – four years after Stella had revisited his beloved Italian homeland.
Neapolitan Song
Neapolitan Song (1926), by Joseph Stella
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
From the little we know of him, he seems to have mustered this resolution and followed throughearly in his career, bucking considerable peer pressure to do so. Studying at the Art Students League in 1896 (hotbed of early Modernists) he bridled at the academy’s “rule forbidding the painting of flowers.” Low-life in the city and steel girders were the order of the day ( actually Stella was quite good with girders, too). By 1897 he had moved to the New York School of Art to work with William Merritt Chase, a pro-flora painter to be sure.
(For much more about the artist and his floral works, see Joseph Stella: Flora, the text available online. It catalogues an exhibition held January 8 - March 6, 1998 at Eaton Fine Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, and includes a long essay by Barbara Rose.)
Catalogue of Joseph Stella, Flora
Eaton Fine Art, Palm Beach, Florida

Reading about Stella’s life, we wonder if he didn’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the gray winters of New York and, later, Paris, really got him down. He seems to have required periodic infusions of sun and green to keep on working: a long visit in Venice, the Naples trip, and late in life, a journey to Barbados. We think it also probable that each of us carries a special affinity for the climate, the colors, and plants of our childhoods. For a painter, this affinity would reasonably be intensified, in some cases amounting to a kind of craving – Van Gogh for his irises, water lilies and palms for Joseph Stella.
As for his devout wish – to paint a flower every day – what a sign of health, to turn personal necessity, no matter how quirky or against the grain, into an explicit plan. May all our resolutions be as honest and as clearly consummated.

... well ... plenty to explore at the Human Flower Project.Thanks to India I found my way there and hope you might too!


iNdi@ said...

thanks for the kind mention me dear
glad you're enjoying the HFP
tis truly wonderful, a great resource

Sophie Munns said...

Hi India,
excellent site -thank you!
By the way ...shall we put up India for PM?
I must interview you for the homage blog before too long on your experience with seeds in particular...if you are interested of course!

La Dolce Vita said...

hi love!! cannot open your images, I get a question mark and when I click on it, it takes me to a page marked FORBIDDEN... oh well, your piece is fabulous!! and i am off to check out India's link! ciao bella!! xx's cat

Sophie Munns said...

Thanks for telling me that cat!
Funny it happened this morning to me not long after posting...then when I opened it straight after it was fine... as it is right now on my computer.
I dont know what to think.
If anyone else reports the same issue s you I will have to cancel the post maybe?
bye for now...
S xx

Sophie Munns said... I fixed up the disappearing photos...but somehow the text has gone walkabout on me!

Oh well!...all out of time for fixing this one!

ArtPropelled said...

Joseph Stella's work is most unusual but my eye went immediately to your piece Sophie. It really is divine. I have odered India's book and am waiting patiently for Kalahari to deliver it.Hopefully tomorrow, in time for the weekend.

Sophie Munns said...

Hi Robyn,
lovely to hear from you... India's book i read at a friends a while back and just drooled over every page. It would be nice to tuck into over a weekend indeed.
Thank you for your gorgeous comment re the work from about 2002. Its an oil painting and I now am very annoyed with myself for not valuing it one razoo when i painted it and eventually just giving it away a couple of years ago... and to who knows whom...I have no recall now.
i could not place the work in any genre I could appreciate. It was connected to work from times past and I rejected it as i could not understand where it belonged. Have you ever done this?
I used to barely ever document my work either ... so this is one that at least I can now appreciate and remember having painted.

Leanne said...

Oh sophie I adore India Flint's work...multilayered, rich, natural,organic...real...something so appealing to me. I haven't visited her blog in a long time...thanks for reconnecting me!

Sophie Munns said...

It is fabulous I agree Leanne...first time I browsed through her book I spent ages drooling!