Remembrance and mortality are the themes seeping into my photography and artwork over the past weeks. I have been using flower symbolism to express this and coinciding with spring it has seemed apt to use the seasonal blooms. The amaryllis is traditionally a symbol of mourning (white blooms), love (red blooms) and is associated with confident, beautiful women. This amaryllis bloom was photographed at the Auckland Domain Wintergarden, a few days before my aunt passed away from cancer. My aunt was a strong, talented woman who will be missed by all her family.
There is a contrast between my flower photography and the recent paintings and sketches that I have been making which are much fresher and lighter in colour and tone. This intersection, between death and the passing of winter, contrasting with the new plant life and blooms of spring is something I intend to explore further.
Recently I had surgery and the experience and subsequent convalescence has also influenced my artwork. As I lay waiting on the operating table I noticed the large wall of glass fronted medicine cabinets in the room and they reminded me of the Damien Hirst retrospective that I visited in London at the Tate Modern. There was a gallery of Hirst medicine cabinets in that retrospective exhibition, some with steel surgical instruments and others with medicines. I recall that the pervading theme of death throughout the Hirst artworks was powerful, at times banal and often unpleasant. Sometimes art is like a conversation that you start and revisit over time, the memories of artworks encountered returning as new situations arise. I wrote about the show after returning to New Zealand in my old Arcadia Files blog.
In November, a trip to the field of crosses erected in front of the Auckland Museum (commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and the New Zealanders killed in WWI) and the Wintergarden also had me considering how to convey the themes of remembrance and respect in the language of plants.
One is always aware when nature printing of how quickly plucked leaves die, and how the cycle of nature turns decay into new life. Although my artworks are not figurative, people are always present in the artworks. They are there in the gardens they plant, the species they use for food and medicines, the flowers they favour, and the endangered plant species and habitats affected by people. I hand print with the leaves and flowers, pressing them onto the paper or canvas, and so the pattern of my fingers is often visible.
I have put a new A4 size artwork on my website in the download and donate section. It is entitled Memory, and was made with budding sage, fennel, michelia and akeake. The akeake was bought from a nursery in Whanganui on a visit with my aunt. It has now grown to a small tree in my garden.
Purple wreath is a flower I have not used before in paintings but this year I made a couple of sketches using the blooms and leaves with some rosemary sprigs, a plant traditionally associated with remembrance. Purple wreath was blooming on Armistice Day in the Wintergarden. I will have to wait until next spring to use this plant again in a larger artwork.
I have started a series of paintings using my backyard apple tree, beginning with the Winter Solstice artwork. This spring I used fresh apple leaves and blooms to create a painting on William Turner watercolour paper – Apple Tree and Lime. Pictured below is a small detail from this painting. The lime leaves were a happy accident – I broke a small branch whilst weeding and used the fragrant leaves in the artwork. I’m planning another apple tree artwork at midsummer.
I’m looking forward to doing more paintings over summer and I’ll write another blog in February. Wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas, with love from New Zealand.
Celeste Sterling, December 2018.