Reading list: Still Life

Let this book by Amber Creswell Bell change the way you see your world.

Still Life by Amber Creswell Bell (Thames & Hudson, $65)

Fruit bowls and flower-filled vases may be still-life mainstays, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that makes this type of art in any way banal. As Sydney arts writer, curator and author of this illuminating book Amber Creswell Bell explains, although they’re frequently more familiar and accessible than modern art, still-life works can contain significant meaning, exploring the senses and moral and intellectual ideas via glimpses into our everyday existence. Forty-one Australian artists are profiled here, all with distinct styles and all to be celebrated for their skill in conveying human narratives in the absence of an actual human. Among them is Julian Meagher, who’s become known for painting cask-wine bladders as a way to investigate our relationship with alcohol. Meanwhile, Jane-Frances Tannock works only with found arrangements — domestic scenes that come together through unplanned acts, like the stack of dishes next to your sink — as a reflection on the rhythms of family life.

MAIN IMAGE I Folded My Body Through the Dark by Bronte Leighton-Dore, photographed by Robin Hearfield. TOP Study for There is Hope to the Last Flower by Julian Meagher, photographed by Mim Stirling. ABOVE Shelf Still Life by Cressida Campbell, photographed by Greg Weight.

Given its subject is the depiction of things that generally just sit there, this read is thoroughly absorbing and thought-provoking. The often-poignant sense of connection these paintings offer is well put by another of the interviewed artists, Andrea Huelin, who says, “I think still life is a kind of communication — a way of saying, ‘Do you see this too? It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’”

TOP Big Harvest by Lucy Roleff (photographed by Kim Landy), who loves the sense that an arrangement “has been left to sit quietly while other life goes on elsewhere… It’s a moment ‘in between’.” ABOVE Near the Fridge by Jane-Frances Tannock.

Words Philippa Prentice

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