Flowers speak in rich portraits of rare beauty

The fragile beauty and rich language of flowers is one of the first impressions that the recent work of painter Natassa Poulantza will make on the viewer. In «Portraits,» the title of her solo show currently on show at the new premises of Qbox gallery, a series of large-scale paintings, including watercolors, show flowers (a single flower for each painting) isolated from their natural surroundings and painted against a chromatically, velvet-like dark background. Shown from an unusual angle and in larger-than-life proportions, Poulantza’s elegant and expressive flower portraits also resemble portraits of people, with movement, grimaces and temperament. They speak of the cycle of life and the passing of time. From the fresh, upright stems of the tulip portraits to the wilting stem of a chrysanthemum, the paintings go through youth, maturity and old age and contain joy melded with the melancholy awareness of life’s unavoidable end. Partly inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of flowers, Poulantza actually watched flowers as they grew day by day. She took photographs of the various stages and then used the images as the basis of her paintings. To a certain degree, this process may explain the photo-realist aesthetic that some of the paintings have. Yet the use of photography is principally tied to the artist’s objective of testing the medium of painting and the position it holds in contemporary art. Despite painting’s comeback in recent years, this is also a medium that has been found on the margins of a contemporary art scene, where installations or concepts have, at times, been deemed more important than craftsmanship and pure painting. In the exhibition, variations of a single portrait that bring to mind the multiple silkscreens of Andy Warhol may suggest the often thin lines that separate an original from its copy. This is one of several oppositions and ambiguities that Poulantza’s flower portraits communicate. Her paintings contain both joy and sadness. They radiate with a luminosity that brings to mind the use of light in 17th century Dutch paintings but are also covered in rich, dark hues that suggest an overwhelming, abyss-like space. Filled with layers of meaning and painted with skilled craftsmanship, these images of flowers show the beauty of both art and life, the loveliness of flowers and the inexhaustible potential of painting. Natassa Poulantza’s «Portraits,» at Qbox (10 Armodiou, Athens, tel 211.119.9991) to January 20.

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