Exploding Flowers, Skulls, Life And Death At Guildhall

Nature Morte, Guildhall Art Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 16 months ago

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Exploding Flowers, Skulls, Life And Death At Guildhall Nature Morte, Guildhall Art Gallery 4
Alexander James's underwater photographs could pass for a Vanitas painting.

Flowers explode, skulls stand up on long tentacles protruding from where the jaw should be, and cutesy ceramic figurines bully one another. This is still life, but not as we know it.

This exhibition brings together classical paintings and contemporary works, so that art from the 16th and 21st centuries hang side by side.

We get familiar Vanitas paintings with black backgrounds featuring skulls, flowers and fruit to remind us that life is fleeting.  Artist Alexander James replicates the look and feel of a Vanitas painting with underwater photography using live butterflies and flowers, while Ori Gersht literally blows apart the genre by placing explosives within a freeze dried bouquet of flowers and recording the hypnotic carnage in slow motion.

Barnaby Barford translates the world of bullying into ceramic figurines - not so cutesy any more.

The show demonstrates that this theme of life and death is still integral in the works of artists today. Mat Colishaw has dramatically photographed the last meal of an inmate on death row, Paul Hazelton has created a delightfully delicate skull out of household dust and Nancy Fouts takes her still life into three dimensions with dead butterflies stuck on to the canvas.

Among the historical artworks from the Guildhall Art Gallery's own collection, this is the perfect setting for this meeting of old and new works, with John Singleton Copley's enormous battle scene looming over all of them.

Many of Jim Skull's creations pop up around the gallery in different colours and made from varying materials.

It's not all flowers and skulls — other traditional mediums are covered too. Richard Stone has crafted a poised boxer out of marble, and Barnaby Barford uses cutesy ceramic figurines to act out a vicious bullying scene where one boy is being kicked on the floor, the whole thing being recorded on a phone.

A sense of humour is present in Darren Jones' shelf full of everyday items, including a pack of tissues and some mouthwash. It's almost as if somebody accidentally left them behind in the gallery.  The diversity of art on display is impressive, with over 100 works covering all aspects of life and death.

Michael Craig-Martin's works how shifting colours can give everyday items a different outlook.

This show is a thumb in the eye for those who trot out the old argument that contemporary art doesn't require any talent and is too far removed from classical art, as this show is full of talented painters, photographers and sculptors who have built upon the Old Masters that came before them.   

Nature Morte at Guildhall Art Gallery, EC2V 5AE from 7 September to 2 April. Full price tickets are £8.

Last Updated 11 September 2017