Picture Perfect – Artist Statement

Adam Turnbull 

The Flower-Growing Should Be Part of the Design

It is a common saying that many persons have no love or appreciation of flowers, but it is probably nearer to the truth to say that no person is wholly lacking in this respect. Even those persons who declare that they care nothing for flowers are generally deceived by their dislike of flower-beds and the conventional methods of flower-growing. I know many persons who stoutly deny any liking for flowers, but who, nevertheless, are rejoiced with the blossoming of the orchards and the purpling of the clover fields. The fault may not lie so much with the persons themselves as with the methods of growing and displaying the flowers.

Manual of Gardening (Second Edition) by L. H. Bailey

A flower garden is complex, there is great care taken to create a garden. The end goal with flowers is to have something to admire, to nurture, something beautiful to call your own. A healthy flower garden exhibits pride, skill, determination and most of all, beauty. Yet, the beauty of flowers is something we regularly take for granted. I’ve killed almost every plant I’ve ever owned.

Maybe it’s getting older, maybe it’s the stifling political environment in the US, the prevailing sense of doom, but recently all I want to do is look at something beautiful—and to try to reproduce that beauty in the world.

The flowers in this series of work were reproduced from a collection of stock photography catalogues called Picture Perfect. The books were produced in New York in the 1990s by a company of the same name, run by Robert Todd and now defunct. Back then, an art director would look through a catalogue, pick a corresponding number to his or her desired photograph, and order the full-scale image for reproductions. The availability of stock photography corresponds with the general public’s access to cameras, editing software, and the internet. This has lead to great diversity in available imagery. Today, stock photos are a dime a dozen.The images in Picture Perfect are different. There is a definitive genericness. Producing the catalogues and couriering photos to people was a lot more elaborate than simply downloading an image. Looking at the images in Picture Perfect felt like viewing someone’s travel diary, there is a homogeny that suggests the thousands of images were taken by the same person, and each edition has photos from a new country. There was the year they were in Asia, the year they were in Australia and New Zealand, and the year that they spent the whole summer on a Caribbean beach. I think this was issue 8.

The flower section of issue 9 took my fancy. Flowers, which always seemed so ephemeral, so out of my control and easily destroyed, appeared overwhelmly simple and resilient. Here, the beauty and skill that goes into producing a flower garden was boiled down to a few dusty pages. Flowers became of interest to me—someone has reproduced these images and I could too. I could appreciate the beauty because I understood the kind of labor it required to grow these kind of flowers. It became possible to produce my own garden.

My flower reproductions have manifested in several mediums. First, small-scale works on paper were created from scans of the stock photos. Applying acetone to the image lifted the ink from the page, allowing for color to move around the image and creating new imagery in the process. Abstracting the reproductions into individual works on paper led to larger works on canvas.

The smaller oil-on-canvas paintings incorporate color from the scanned images. Using the same process, ink is lifted with acetone and transferred to the background of the painting. The paintings reflect a black and white photocopy of a flower, a reproduction oscillating between the figurative and abstract.

Aluminium sculptures, originally made to stand at eye-level,  are crumbled down, folded, smashed—twisted so much that the material starts to take on another form. The creases in the metal begin to feel soft and malleable, like the flower petals printed on their surface. The aluminum is then bent back to an upright position.

When L.H Bailey said that “many persons have no love or appreciation of flowers, but it is probably nearer to the truth to say that no person is wholly lacking in this respect” he was referring to the work that goes into creating and tending to a flower garden. It is hard work to create something beautiful. It’s easy to shun hard work. This series was an attempt to, again, realize beauty through hard work.