Review: Elegant, graphic photos of flowers conjure themes of mortality


Clusters of lilies, poppies, lotus blossoms and anemones float like constellations against black backdrops in Cynthia Farnell’s dramatic, graphic photographs of flowers. Farnell’s flower photographs, featured in “Garlands” at Poem 88, clustered into towers and swags of blossoms are often sourced from family plants handed down through the generations, gathered or grown by the artist.

Rather than always resembling conventional flower arrangements — wedding bouquets, corsages, centerpieces — Farnell’s flower clusters are architectural, impossible, Jenga-like, fantasy arrangements. Her strange bouquets seem more like imagined, genetically modified hybrids of various flowers melded into one super-bloom. “Garlands (Lotus),” for instance, features a curling tendril of helpmate flowers on a floral helix capped by a singular, gorgeous, open lotus. Those lesser, bridesmaid flowers work to prop up the star of the show, operating like a skyscraper’s steel armature to help hold its pink-tinged majesty aloft.

In the sumptuous “Garlands (Waterlily),” a vertical arrangement of hot pink, mauve and blush blooms has the appearance of an elaborate, ceremonial headdress. “Garlands (Constellation)” floats across a horizontal plane like a time-lapse image, spider lilies radiating like asteroids from its center, exploding from the clusters of lilies and poppies.

The photographs themselves can conjure up a number of associations. With their frieze-like horizontal or epic, vertical arrangements, these floral garlands can often evoke Japanese scroll paintings of flowers with their emphasis on refined, arranged nature and serene compositions. And in spirit if not in style, the photographs can often evoke European still life paintings of the past, when flowers and lavish banquets of food stood as banners of time’s passage, of rot and wilt and ultimately, death.

“Garlands” features just five of Farnell’s pigment ink jet prints on Belgian linen and one video piece. In that eight-minute video, individual pink, white and blush lilies and poppies drift like snowflakes or fireworks through an inky black space, piling up at the bottom of the frame into a mound of blossoms, like a video game whose goal is to accumulate the most blooms possible.

Farnell’s is a tightly edited show that suits the small Poem 88 gallery space on Zonolite Road. And the work itself has just enough substance and bite to give some grit to the photographs’ surface beauty and a relatively one-note show that most often links flowers and mortality. It’s hard to deny the funereal associations in all those gorgeous, peak-of-beauty flowers set against those enveloping, inky backdrops. It’s a yin and yang of life and death, exquisite, ephemeral beauty and cold, black finality.

The photographs themselves, with their vivacious white and pink flowers and verdant leaves, provide dramatic contrast with those black backdrops, giving these corsages an unmistakably funereal dimension. Farnell’s lush arrangements of lilies recall the pyramids of flowers that decorate funeral homes and the fresh, clean smell of nature that can often accompany such moments. Farnell’s clusters and corsages of flowers are a reminder that these blooms are often the handmaidens to our life’s most significant, fraught passages: weddings, dances, funerals. And there is also a certain melancholy to flowers that echoes our own existence: a fleeting, incredible vibrancy and beauty that fades and mellows.

ART REVIEW

“Cynthia Farnell: Garlands”

Through Jan. 28. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Poem 88, 1123 Zonolite Road N.E., Suite 20A, Atlanta. 404-735-1000, www.poem88.net.

Bottom line: Surface beauty with a backbeat of mortality in an Atlanta artist’s photographs of flowers.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Atlanta Concerts this week: Lyle Lovett, Alice Cooper
Atlanta Concerts this week: Lyle Lovett, Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper heads to town Monday with Deep Purple. Photo: Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene SATURDAY Earth, Wind & Fire and Chic EWF always puts together a creative summer tour package, and aligning with the funky-fresh Nile Rodgers and Chic will make for a groove-filled night ...
Teens and the distorted reality of social media
Teens and the distorted reality of social media

Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist, widely known for some of the most popular all-American songs. He wrote hundreds of tunes, many of which became major hits, making him a celebrity before turning 30. In addition to composing favorites such as “God Bless America” and “Easter Parade,” he also wrote “I&rsquo...
A season of hellos, goodbyes and new beginnings
A season of hellos, goodbyes and new beginnings

It’s something of an historical moment in Atlanta theater, a year of celebration and change. Robert J. Farley is staging his final season at Georgia Ensemble Theatre (GET), the playhouse he founded a quarter-century ago in Roswell. After GET’s silver anniversary season, Farley hands the baton to associate artistic director Alan Kilpatrick...
Gallery exhibitions focus on photography
Gallery exhibitions focus on photography

The smart money this fall is on photography, a genre the story-telling South has always excelled at. With its gorgeous light, delightfully off-kilter people and lushly photogenic landscape, the South seems the ideal muse for the medium. In addition to the October events and exhibits surrounding the annual roster of lectures, exhibits and workshops...
An operatic debut, a beknighted pianist and a 20-year celebration
An operatic debut, a beknighted pianist and a 20-year celebration

Concert venues in Atlanta this fall will resound with the strains of classical music from beloved classics to hidden gems performed for the very first time in the city. The action centers on Symphony Hall and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-18 season, but many other venues are hosting performances that promise to rank among the most intriguing...
More Stories