BRINTZ Gallery is pleased to present Flora, an exhibition of paintings by nine stylistically diverse contemporary artists: Donald Baechler, Ross Bleckner, André Butzer, Petra Cortright, Marc Handelman, John Newsom, Rachel Rossin, Julian Schnabel, and Brian Willmont. The artists were chosen for their idiosyncratic approaches to floral and plant motifs, which reflect the multiplicity of their worldviews and artistic practices. The result is an aesthetically and intellectually adventurous “flower show” that’s not about flowers.
For several artists, the term flora communicates a strong idea of place. Rachel Rossin, the New Museum in New York’s first-ever Virtual Reality Fellow, has made what she describes as “plein air paintings of virtual flowers” for the exhibition. To create the initial computer models from which she paints, Rossin inputs the unique light qualities and atmospheric conditions of her hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida, into the 3-D modeling software, infusing her fictive, virtual flowers with a memory of rootedness.
The geographical connections—or disconnections—between plant and place are even more apparent in the works of Julian Schnabel and Marc Handelman. In Schnabel’s Port of Lisbon, from the Neo-Expressionist maestro’s Navigation series, purple and crimson oil paint meanders across a vintage map of Lisbon, Portugal. The colors evoke the bougainvillea flowers that blossom throughout the capital city, while the roving lines suggest imaginary journeys that exceed the limits of cartography. Marc Handelman’s Towards a Form of Voluntary Dispossession (for Édouard Glissant) is a series of delicate, luminous watercolor and mixed media paintings inspired by the tropical orchid motifs of 19th century Luminist painter Martin Johnson Heade. Through his use of repetition, Handelman reveals the artifice behind Heade’s apparent naturalism, while at the same time discovering luxuriant pleasures blooming in his untamable backgrounds.
Petra Cortright builds layers of pixelated brushstrokes into billowing clouds of floral extravagance in her one-of-a-kind digital paintings. Cortright foregrounds the technological futurism of her flowers by means of cutting-edge printing methods that allow her to compose with contrasting lusters, from matte to glossy, on anodized aluminum supports. Brian Willmont, on the other hand, uses meticulously handcrafted stenciling and airbrush techniques to make his icy cool paintings of poppies. Like Corthright, Willmont approaches the concept of flora from a post-natural perspective: his wavelike effects mimic Photoshop distortion filters, and the lush purple and amber gradients with which he fills his poppy flower silhouettes suggest retro-futurist sunglass tints.
If Cortright and Willmont dramatize our distance from the natural world, John Newsom’s Meadow Paintings provide an opportunity for us to reconnect. In each painting, Newsom employs subtle optical effects that convey the cosmic grandeur of a sunflower or the mysterious sensation of petals dematerializing in the wind. His titles, such as Tender Certainty, Within a Moment, and Origin of Light, signal that there are metaphysical subtleties at play. The Meadow Paintings encourage us to slip beneath the surface into a world of magic and enchantment.
Other Flora artists use the flower motif as a stand-in for the human subject or the inner self. Ross Bleckner’s motion-blurred flowers that dissolve into fields of shimmering light feel like human bodies on the verge of transfiguration or suspended in the timelessness of a lover’s memory. André Butzer’s rows of thumbprint-sized, primary-color marks on sketchbook paper, meanwhile, suggest pointillist landscapes that have been reduced to a zero-degree level of color and pattern. While Butzer’s paintings on paper eschew Bleckner’s romanticism, their handmade quality and intimate scale lends them an existential pathos. Similarly, Donald Baechler is attracted to the charm and pathos of naïve drawings, and the flower paintings Baechler made for Flora use sophisticated compositional and color strategies to elevate his source material to a state of stoic nobility without losing the awkwardness that makes them so human.
The nine artists in Flora have developed very different strategies for incorporating floral motifs into artworks that feel exciting and relevant in the twenty-first century. By placing these artists in conversation, Flora allows us to draw intriguing connections among their respective works and marvel at the breadth of poetic expression, stylistic innovation, and philosophical insight that nature inspires.