Karla Marchesi, born 1984 in Brisbane, studied fine arts and painting in Australia and the United States and developed an interest in object portraiture. In 2012 she undertook a studio residency in Berlin and has since been working there. She also participated in group shows in America, Australia, Asia and Europe and had solo exhibitions in Brisbane, Melbourne and Singapore. Her works are in public and private collections in Australia, Germany and Luxembourg. ARTSCAPE’s exhibition Floral Atlas is her first solo show in Europe since the 2013 exhibition.
Marchesi’s work draws on a lexicon of art history and the everyday as a means to deconstruct contemporary social mores. Framed by traditions of memento mori and Vanitas painting, her previous work featured scenes of chaotic domestic interiors, suburban vistas and animated landscapes; metaphorically portraying the human subject in its absence.
For her new series Floral Atlas, the artist created a number of impossible bouquet paintings in which she takes on the still life genre of the flower arrangement to explore intersections between nature and culture.
Since its emergence in the 16th century, the still life genre has taken on many different meanings and functions, remaining an important field of artistic experimentation and innovation. Marchesi uses the genre for a theatrical critique of the absurdity of viewing constructs of culture as natural, and in this way speaks to contemporary socio-political conditions.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, northern painters such as Jan Breughel the older, Willem Claesz, Georg Flegel and Jean Siméon Chardin, brought the genre to fame by expressing religious and mythical content through allegories. Throughout the 19th century, despite its inferior position in the so-called hierarchy of genres, the still life continued to be a privileged pictorial form with famous works by Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi, amongst others. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque used the still life as a playground for developing cubism and abstract painting. Modern painter Georgia O’Keeffe created a completely new understanding of the flower piece, exaggerating its distinct forms in vibrant colours. During the last decades, contemporary artists Franz Gertsch, Fischli Weiss, and Pascal Sender, experimented with the still life to create astounding new forms of expression which go beyond the initial scope of the genre.
In Karla Marchesi’s work, the still life takes up the dualism of delectare ET prodesse, of representational aesthetic and allegoric meaning, to shed a light on our experience of and interactions with nature and its intellectual construction.
In her paintings, no human bodies are to be seen, only things. But human existence is still present as a metaphor of somebody who’s been there, or has taken part, or is an observer or perpetrator of a place or a scene. The artist investigates the meaning of places as they are constructed in our minds. Places which Michel Foucault has described philosophically as heterotopies (as opposed to utopia, non-places), places which function as a screen; made of our desires and fears, and on which memories are projected and mutually understood.
In Forest of the night, the picture is filled in abundance with huge flowers, dramatically set in scene with the moonlight coming from the background of the canvas. A flower picture, in colours, wants to be looked at. Marchesi, by going for the monochrome epic of black and yellow, strips the delectare out of the flower piece and hues to structure rather than to the beauty of the plants, replacing sensual pleasure with intellectual design, not unlike the monochrome mentality of cubism.
Thus her paintings can be associated with a reflection on the quasi-religious and gender identity of the artist in the post Internet age, so to a decoding of modernity, filtered through the medium of history painting. By broaching themes of death and temporality; cultural constructs, contrivances and historical myopia, her work seeks to create a space positing a landscape which draws together traditions of 17th century Vanitas painting and Modernism. These painted mises-en-scène utilise a tragic-comic sensibility. Adopting a hyperopic vision of human experience, these works reflect on the theatricality of our historical moment and address anxieties afflicting contemporary living.
Within these paintings, motifs of circular voids, celestial bodies, or objects of modern life interact with a backdrop of Dutch Golden Age impossible bouquets. Here the floral arrangements signify middle-class wealth and nascent market capitalism. Employing formal elements distorting form and scale, the depicted flora appears fetishized and anthropomorphic. These bouquets speak to the constructedness of cultural suppositions and question the relevance of cultural dictates with playful incongruity.