Olivia Parker

Objects of Comfort and Despair

Still and Not so Still Life

For thirty five years I have made pictures that come out of the still life genre:  the comfort of the table with food or a vase of flowers and the despair of the vanitas and memento mori with their reminders that life and death are inseparable.  The  images retain the formal shell of the expected, but have elements of the unexpected.

Still life has sometimes been spoken of as a small art form, insignificant compared to the grand traditions of portrait, religious, and history painting or 20th century statements tendered as huge abstract and/or expressionist canvases, not to mention the exotic or the all too terribly real transfixed in the camera’s eye.  Yet still life remains.  Sometimes it is a vehicle for learning, but I suggest that its persistence has to do with its proximity to the most basic concerns of human life: food; shelter; sex and accompanying life and growth; and death.  Also, the simplicity of content in a still life allows for endless expressive experimentation within a form which remains close to universal human experience.

The images in Still and not so Still Life have a specific reference: 17th century Dutch, Flemish and Spanish painting, light against a dark ground.  To begin with the pictures remain photographic, light and lense shape them.  Many have a sharply photographic foreground with the background dissolving into darkness pierced with windows of glowing light.

Some of the objects are the expected: pears, violets, and shells.  On the other hand, one might not anticipate finding a human brain in what looks like a canning jar.  Instead of collected objects ‘The collector,’ an animal that sticks small shells, sponges and more to its shell, is on the ledge.  Then there is motion that you will see here and there.  The rest is for each viewer to find.

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