Transience by Barbara MacKinnon June/July 2021.

Posted by Fiona Cable on

BMK’s paintings might look like compilations of ordinary flowers, but together they tell a specific story of painting; an investigation through art lineage, symbolism, and composition.

A pause brought about by the global pandemic provoked a return to her lifelong infatuation with flowers.

"Flowers suddenly seemed to present themselves and initially I didn’t understand why, then I realised that it was a response to what was happening in our world, a response to the beauty and fragility of life.

Flowers are a perfect metaphor for this. Flowers have always been in her life. As a child she was constantly picking “bouquets” from gardens poking through fences and giving them to her favourite people. Even in the most impoverished times of her life, there has always been a vase of fresh flowers on the table. 

Although floral still life has long been considered throughout history as the 'lowest' genre in the artistic hierarchy, the still life in today’s market is anything but low. The vanitas and memento mori picture became popular in the seventeenth century, in a religious age when almost everyone believed that life on earth was merely a preparation for an afterlife. However, modern artists have continued to explore this genre. Memento mori still life paintings can be a celebration of material pleasures or more often a warning of the ephemerality of these pleasures and of the brevity of human life. These paintings were designed to remind us that the trivial pleasures of life are abruptly and permanently wiped out by death. 

As flowers dry and decay the shape and feel of the flower is beautifully transformed. A shallow beauty can become a deeper, more fascinating beauty through life.

As this body of work developed, I explored the beauty and freshness we all have in our lives. This changes and becomes a different kind of beauty as we move through life. So too with these works, they are scraped, partially destroyed, wiped and reworked, changed and become representational of our imperfect, ephemeral reality. Beauty and chaos, mystery and sadness, disintegration of life as we know it. These times are a reminder to us all of the fragility of our existence.

MacKinnon paints entirely from her imagination and memory, she loves finding opportunities for chaos and foreboding to creep into her compositions. 

While living in the UK, managing the Ewen Country Estate, Cirencester, one of my daily tasks was to do the flowers for the house. The preferred option for the bathrooms was always Phalaenopsis, but my day began with a stroll through the glorious herbaceous borders, selecting armfuls of flowers for the various rooms, taking them into the flower room and arranging them for the house.

The traditional still life is reimagined with fresh eyes, all while maintaining focus on the everyday objects that inform, inspire and enhance the ordinary existence. MacKinnon combines the old-world charm of still life with the vivacity of contemporary styling. Flowers offer a symbolic nod to Dutch and Flemish works, while stripping back the crowded composition so often found in traditional still life. Her take on the still life offers a refreshing and bright departure from classic genre colour palettes in dark and heavy hues.

A vivid visual study of beauty and mortality, decay and imperfection can be discovered in this exhibition. 

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