EMBELLISH will be on view at the Smyth Galleries from 9-30th November
At first glance, these floral portraits from art photographer Emma Bass are stunning and dramatic. But look a little closer and you’ll realise you can’t take these works at face value. Some flowers are real, others artificial and there are several embellishments and little additions to be discovered.
Last year, Emma was the only New Zealand artist to be chosen to display a work (a portrait called Hydrangeas 8.50am) at the prestigious Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. That trip motivated her to create a new series of photographs, a collection named Embellish. “I fell in love with the still life paintings of the Dutch Masters while I was exploring the National Gallery,” says Emma. These rich, dark, atmospheric photographs are the result of that inspiration. Sumptuous colourful arrangements are displayed in ornate vases, positioned on a marble ledge. The creative style fuses the drama of the Dutch Masters with an ikebana aesthetic.
While the photographs are intriguing to look at, they also ask questions. “This new body of work is about illusion,” says Emma. “It asks whether the act of embellishment amplifies beauty, or makes something less palatable. Or can it create another way of seeing the world entirely?” Amid the floral embellishments – some buds drip with gold paint, others are spray-painted black – are inanimate finds such as wedding rings or toy soldiers as well as living creatures like Emma’s pet cockatiel.
To name the portraits, Emma collaborated with well-known landscape gardener Xanthe White. “Each piece is so personal to Emma, interwoven into her life, and so in the naming we tried to capture that complexity and intimacy while still leaving room for the viewer to have their personal response,” says Xanthe. Although this new collection is both seductive and thoughtful, Emma hopes mainly that it will bring joy into people’s homes. “British philosopher Roger Scruton argues that beauty matters. It’s a universal human need, so we should risk everything to see it and find it,” she says.
Embellish by Emma Bass is at the Smyth Galleries, 41 Jervois Road, St Marys Bay, Auckland, 9-30 November