The connotations and symbolism of the rose is vast and varied. From
John Milton's (1608 - 1674) evocation of the irresistible temptation
that the rose posed for Eve in 'Paradise Lost' (1667) to the
contemporary celebration of the flower as an emblem of love and
friendship, the rose enjoys an illustrious history. Milton's
reconfiguration of the first book of the 'Bible', the 'Book of
Genesis', places Eve alone, gardening amongst a cluster of roses when
Satan in the guise of a serpent approaches. Notably, once Eve has
succumbed to temptation, the world is irreversibly altered so that:
"From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve
Down dropped, and all the faded roses shed..."
An evocation of the tumultuous history of the origin of the
world, the blown roses on the canvases of Pamela Wolfe refer back to
the dawn of creation. In this manner, the works provide a link to a
time of perfect beauty before original sin, while also relating to the
present time of death and decay.
Renowned for her beautiful, vibrant canvases of large, looming flowers,
Pamela Wolfe came to embrace the genre of flower painting in recent
years, which in some ways places her out of step with current trends.
Her characteristic composition featuring an inky black background and
majestic blooming roses has been expanded in these latest works. The
introduction of a variety of floral species combined with a viewpoint
of further remove works to create an increased sense of familiarity.
The detailed delicate brushwork that is a hallmark of Wolfe's painting
is superbly evident in the range of textures and surfaces in these
works such as the faint almost transparent, crinkled poppy, the compact
furry buds and the plump petals of the magnolia. In effect, the
paintings exude an inviting tactility, beckoning the spectator into a
world of floral elegance and delight.
This body of work by Pamela Wolfe showcases her consistent love
affair with the rose. However, through the expansive six canvases,
Wolfe has taken the liberty of expanding and modernising her focus to
include an array of violets, magnolias and poppies as well as the
ubiquitous rose. A further note of departure is evident in the subtle
inclusion of objects in the form of a vase and a wide-lipped bowl,
which references the long-established tradition of the still-life
genre. Moreover, this selection of canvases marks a new interest in
modernity for Wolfe, who has chosen to focus and represent modern
species of roses as opposed to the old-fashioned varieties, which have
blossomed across past works.
The works in this show continue and extend Wolfe's drawn inspiration
from vanitas paintings, which emerged in Dutch portraiture of the
fifteenth and sixteenth century. Traditionally, vanitas imagery was
utilised to symbolise the brevity of life and the mutability of nature.
This genre of painting holds a strong moralistic element, focusing on
the allure of the beauteous exterior whilst simultaneously warning the
viewer of the dangers that lurk beneath. In connection with vanitas,
Wolfe depicts the three phases of the flower - bud, bloom and blown,
highlighting the cyclic nature of life and the transience of beauty
that is ravaged by the inevitable passage of time.
Accordingly, Wolfe's work holds connections with a long established
tradition of flower painting that is particularly prevalent in the
Netherlandish history of art. Echoes of works by artists such as Jan
Brueghel the Elder (1525 - 1569), Abraham Mignon (1640 - 1679) and
Rachel Ruysch (1664 - 1750) are evident in Wolfe's work. This is seen
in the garland of flowers that adorns the canvases and more
importantly, in the inclusion of flowers that are blown. In this
manner, Wolfe and her Dutch precedents employ the present and past
beauty of flowers to subtly comment on the fated passage of time. It is
notable, however, that the inclusion of poised, turgid droplets of
water on various botanical specimens challenges the vanitas postulate
of decay and demise insofar as Wolfe has suspended a moment in time,
preserving in paint the specifics of a fleeting moment.
The works exhibit a startling realism, as green poppy buds
bursting with red promise are accurately transcribed onto the canvas
while a selection of fine hairs deftly cover their exterior. Wolfe has
employed a fully saturated palette to communicate the vibrant yet
detailed anatomy of the displayed floral species. Set against an inky,
tenebrous surface, the flowers burst forth in plumes of colour. The
fleshy petals of the magnolia are provocatively bruised disclosing a
thin, red line that meanders across the bloom in the manner of a vein.
Pamela Wolfe's fascination with flowers remains undiminished by
fashion, harking back through past centuries, to the dawning of time.
In effect, Wolfe's work remains impervious to the ebb and flow of