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A Little Garden

Layers of Meaning

new work by Emma Bass

“In her latest series, Bass has pushed back into art history, back to the seventeenth century Dutch old master floral painters who inspired her earlier work. Using full-colour illustrations of original Dutch paintings, Bass has arrived at a magical blend of old and new, of European and the New Zealand, referencing her original sources of inspiration. Layered over this are Matisse-like foliage modern cut-outs, gilded in 24k gold. These lay quite boldly on the surface of the image. Between these two are found real insects and butterflies, brightly coloured and iridescent. These layers are conflated by the photographic process to make an enigmatic whole. The additions are subtle and often echo elements that the original painters added to their flower arrangements, which were themselves often imagined rather than real. (Because everything is in colour the layering becomes much harder to disentangle, and the whole conglomeration is displayed to rich effect in old master-type frames. )

These photographs require the viewer to participate, not just scan. The feel of a memento mori remains strong, but time, space and authorship become elusive. These are reproductions of reproductions of pre-modern paintings of real and imagined still life elements acting as surfaces bearing real insects and borrowed but modified modern motifs. This is about as post-modern as you can get, yet the images are great to look at and can hang in any space, from a Victorian interior to a white cube. It is increasingly difficult these days to make original art using straight photography. Bass’s new work rises to that challenge magnificently. Only through photography could she realise her illusionistic visions.”

– Warwick Brown 2020