Life & death: Guildhall Art Gallery exhibits still life art

04th September 2017

London’s Guildhall Art Gallery is playing host to an exhibition that explores life and death in the form of still life, from both contemporary artists and works by the old masters. 

Curator of the exhibition Michael Petry explains that the works are all featured around death. 

“In the 17th century you looked at a vase of luscious blooms and everyone immediately got the message: this is the peak of perfection and beauty, it’s all downhill from here,” he said. “That’s the element that is really hooking in contemporary artists.”

The still life works of art depict flowers, raw meat, human bones and a cobweb skull made from a duster and glued household dust by artist Paul Hazelton. Titled ‘Fright Wig’ the skull demonstrates change and decay - with the majority of dust being human skin - and, according to the Guardian, resembles the late Andy Warhol. 

When it comes to conservation of the skull it can be difficult, with co-curator Katherine Pearce having to place the work of art in a glass case. 

Another piece featuring at the exhibition is ‘A Time and a Place’ by Darren Jones, which is a collection of objects precariously balanced on a small glass shelf. 

According to the artist, the work represents a weekend in the gay bars and clubs of Fire Island off New York and includes ferry tickets, mouthwash, tissues, lubricant, whiskey, paracetamol and a tape measure. 

Other contemporary works include that by Michael Craig-Martin, Marc Quinn, and Mat Collishaw, which will all be on display at the exhibition from September 7th 2017 to April 2nd 2018.

Mat Collishaw’s masterpiece is in the style of a classic 17th-century Dutch still life with food piled up against a dark background. This food is that chosen by prisoner Juan Soria as his last meal before being executed for murder in Texas. 

These artists and their works were chosen carefully by Mr Petry and the artist and dancer Roberto Ekholm. The masterpieces will stand alongside old master still lifes from the collection of the City of London, with many that are coming out of decades of storage just for the exhibition. 

Mr Petry wants visitors to the exhibition to look at what artists are really saying about their works of art and the theme of life and death - the title of the exhibition itself literally transfers to ‘dead nature’. 

For example, one work that shows a simple outline of a leaf can be decoded as the lost language of flowers and religious symbolism in many historic paintings. 

“We are more aware of death than ever now,” Mr Petry said. “A generation of young artists has grown up in the last two decades in the shadow of endless killing, nonstop war in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq – and now we have two mad men with their fingers on the nuclear button.”

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