Historically, still life paintings were deeply tied with religious and mythological meaning. This was a reflection of the times; as the Church was the center of everyday life. For the artist, they knew their place and stayed within it. But as time progresses, society was inevitably changing. Through the 16th century on, emotion mixed with meaning and intentionality were the focus. It's easy to look at still lifes and think how beautiful and pretty they are, and quickly move on to the next painting. But artwork usually goes much deeper than just depicting “pretty objects.” Even if a painting is purposely meaningless, there is always an underlying thought process behind the work. From Van Gogh’s oil on canvas of worn shoes to Ori Gersht photography, we can see so much more then a still life. This is about challenging the viewer to think. In this curation, other paintings will be displayed to exemplify the meaning in the ordinary.
Van Gogh, Shoes, 1886
Oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent Van Gogh had a great ability to take something so habitual to us and derive meaning from it. Van Gogh in a way saw so many things in their simplest form. He saw the world of the people that wore these shoes. He knew their lifestyle, their suffering, their pain. He chose to paint something so basic because of what they represented. These are working shoes. For him, ordinary commonplace items do not have to be beautiful for him to see the beauty in them.
Adriaen Coorte, Still Life with Asparagus, 1696
oil paint on paper, Rijksmuseum Museum, Amsterdam
Adriaen Coorte lived and worked in Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland in the southern part of the Netherlands, where local collectors acquired many of the artist’s still lifes. Coorte was going against the grain in his way of portraying a single, simple vegetable compared to the multitude of wealth and riches exemplified in still lifes at this time of Dutch art. Although this painting embodies more of a traditional still life in our minds, his concept behind the painting was to show simplicity in the customary life of the day-to-day.
Roberto Bernardi, Banal Life Style Paintings, 2009
oil on canvas, Bernarducci Meisel Gallery
When in the mist of the mundane, a unique point of view was found. These highly naturalistic and stunning paintings created by Italian artist Roberto Bernadi captures the essence of a scene the reveals how interesting it actually is. Bernardi began perfecting his skills at age eighteen when he started his work restoring paintings at the church of San Francesco a Ripa in Rome. But instead of the church’s high culture, the artist stated that art for him was truly about stealing moments of everyday life. This was inspiration.
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962
Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases, The Museum of Modern Art
We’ve seen so many images that we don’t see a difference anymore. Here, Warhol wasn't just emphasizing popular imagery, but rather providing a conversation on how people have come to perceive these things in modern times as commodities. This fast paced world can be bought and sold, with everyday objects that are identifiable with just one glance. Warhol is making the viewer stop and listen. In his creation of a visual effect of serial imagery, he shows the consumer how we have lost the ordinary through mass production.
Roy Lichtenstein, Untitled (Still Life with Lemon and Glass) 1974
lithograph and screenprint with debossing on smooth, white wove paper,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This highly stylized version of a still life focuses on mixing Proto Pop and high art. Through thick black lines and cartoon like graphics, Lichtenstein has changed classical subject matter from the traditional "high art" themes of morality, mythology, and classic history to celebrate commonplace objects and people of everyday life. In this way Lichtenstein is seeking to elevate the relevant popular culture to the level of fine art. He is putting in front of the viewer meaning of the ordinary through a pop lens.
Ori Gersht, Blow Up, 2007
Photography, Mummery + Schnelle Gallery
The large-scale photographs entitled Blow Up depict elaborate floral arrangements, based upon a 19th Century still-life painting by Henri Fantin-Latour, captured in the moment of exploding. In this series of Photographs, Gersht takes what the viewer knows of a typical still life and destroys it. Flowers that have been a sign of peace and tranquility for ages now become victims of destruction. This different approach to what we know as an ordinary grouping of flowers challenges the viewer to think about the uneasy beauty in destruction.