Flower Show 2019, Academy Gallery, University of Tasmania, Launceston

  • Amber Koroluk-Stephenson : Blush, 2019, oil on linenBlush 2019, oil on linen, 71.5 x 61.5cm
  • Amber Koroluk-Stephenson : Home, 2019, oil on linenHome 2019, oil on linen, 71.5 x 61.5
  • Amber Koroluk-Stephenson : Interior Topographies, 2019, oil on linenInterior Topographies 2019, oil on linen, 71.5 x 61.5

Flower Show

Written by Dr. Eliza Burke

'The traditional relationship between flowers and femininity is well established in art history as one where old school feminine virtues of chastity, fertility and purity were symbolised through the sensual beauty of the flower. Such meanings are distinct from the role of the flower in the histories of still life painting where, in the vanitas tradition it symbolised the transient nature of existence, or in other contexts, the specificities of nationality, seasonality or religious belief. The symbolic versatility of the flower has provided a rich field of reference for contemporary women painters, particularly in reclaiming and subverting a long-standing sexual metaphor and creating new approaches to the politics of domestic space through the still life genre.

Koroluk-Stephenson’s flower paintings play in this field, mixing references to Australian women painters in the still life and landscape traditions, with allusions to eroticised femininity through other artworks and natural and domestic forms. Through her pared-back, hyper-real aesthetic, these works suggest an uneasy alliance between the flower and domesticity where hidden and forgotten histories of women’s flower painting may be revealed and new conversations about painting begun. Creating theatrical settings for her selected images and objects, Koroluk-Stephenson uses the artifice of pastiche and reproduction to critique the often naturalised connections made between femininity, domestic space and flowers, exposing them as artificial, and as easily constructed as dismantled. Concealed plinths and other furniture items entice the gaze but also restrict it, serving as temporary platforms for the sparse arrangements of flowers and images and evoking an uncanny sense of displacement. The combination of sexualised forms of the shell, cactus, and folded forms reminiscent of Hannah Wilke’s 1960/70s feminist sculptures, creates a topography of unresolved legacies and entrapped histories in the still gendered landscape of contemporary painting.

Whilst the works may appear pre-occupied with composition, such emphasis is strategic in evoking the irony of traditionally sexualised constructions of femininity that make it readable, desirable and consumable under a dominant gaze. Koroluk- Stephenson questions such constructions through a playful, ‘soft’ mode of feminist critique, highlighting tensions between the seductiveness of her interiors and their emptiness or dysfunction, and the symbolic currency of the flower as an accessible, but not unproblematic symbol of femininity. The act of reproducing flower and landscape paintings by Australian painters such as Clarice Beckett, Grace Cossington-Smith, Thea Procter and Anne MacDonald and the oft-misinterpreted flower paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, thus serves as a way of talking about the gendered hierarchies of genre painting, the constricted gaze through which women’s painting is still received, and the possibility of creating new spaces for interpretation.'