LUSH highlights the work of over thirty artists, each enthusiastically experimenting with diverse media and styles, each speaking to show's greater common theme: flowers.
“Throughout history, florals can be found represented in art from all cultures and regions, as well as a source of inspiration within various artistic movements,” reads the exhibition’s press release. “With over 400,000 known plant species, artists have long looked to this endless array of specimens, utilizing them to convey a universal symbol of beauty as well as a spectrum of human emotion. By doing so, artists are able to imbue the delicately stemmed floral with great emotional heft.” LUSH compensates flowers for their dutiful millennia spent not only blooming of their own accord, but also provoking moving generations of creatives to take up their tools. This showpays tribute to all that flowers can mean in their dependable symbolism, as malleable and expansive as the entire human psyche.
The meanings we humans find in nature elucidate creater facets of our collectiuve character. This reality took shape in my mind one night last fall. As a friend and I sat on a pier jutting into the Hudson River, we gazed north toward the George Washington Bridge. Manhattan's uppermost reaches are otherworldly, all sweeping pillars of humbling rock. The imposing suspension bridge gleamed with quiet omnipresence .
In that moment, we noted how kind of ridiculous it is that society so frequently names its infrastructure and monuments after people. People are fallible, flawed, and often seek success for its own sake rather than as the happy byproduct of a larger motivating cause.
“What should we name things after instead?” we asked. An idea popped in my head.
Pennsylvania’s state flower is the mountain laurel—not the rhododendron, as my grandmother pointed out during so many summer afternoons at her tiny log cabin on state park land. Its state tree is the Eastern Hemlock, with shorter stouter little needles than other evergreen trees. PA's state animal is the white tailed deer and our state bird is the ruffed grouse. I have been able to list these facts on command since elementary school. Returning our gaze to the storied GW Bridge, my friend and I settled on its new name—The Rose—for New York's own state flower.
As a very young child, our family vacations centered around cabins and beaches, state parks and lakes. I learned early how to discern different trail markers and scale treacherous terrain with tact. My mom told me her parents always took her out into nature because it was free. I could’ve drawn the same conclusion with my own childhood, which transpired in all manner of fields and creeks and forests and mountain facades, but there was something more to it. As an alive being, I am a flower in my own right, most at home with the dirt. So are you. Nature is everything that builds itself.
So, like the very planet we live on, flowers are an irreducible constant throughout art history—it’s only our collective tastes and projections that shift. Standing in Hashimoto Contemporary on LUSH's opening day, Rizzo noted recently trending perceptions of the natural world. “The past few years, we've all had this natural gravitation towards nurturing something and growing something in our spaces,” she explained. “And then COVID hit.”
The difficulties associated with this past year place flowers in place of emphatic beauty and urgency. Home-bound households sheltering in place turned to fauna to bring natural beauty into their fold of artificial safety. Beauty provides both comfort and hours of entertainment, caring for and admiring its bounties. As COVID drags on and we hold out for a springtime hope, flowers gain new significance in the greater cultural context once more.
This large group exhibition serves as a survey. While Rizzo said she does value harmony in her exhibitions, she also values diligent exploration, evidenced by the show’s vastly varied works which range from quilted pinwheels to a paper cutout portrait. Each standalone piece throughout LUSH coalesces with the whole, into something greater than even quirkiness.
“There's so many different things I can find interesting and beautiful,” Rizzo explained. “It could go from hyperrealism to something very minimal and geometric. When I was putting together the body of work, there were some immediate ideas that came to mind. From there, I started looking at, as a bonus, ‘What am I missing? What do I need to explain a little bit more?’” She said the show took shape (organically!) from a line of questioning like this.
Rizzo's first inclinations when contemplating her own favorite flowers yielded big name winners like peonies. However, digging deeper, she cited her recent admiration for baby’s breath. “It's traditionally a filler,” she smiled, referencing the understated flora's typical role in a bouquet situation. “But if you’ve ever seen a bunch of it together, they're just like little cotton tops. I think it's so beautiful.”
There’s an easy, at-home personality test I discovered in a quiz book for pre-teens while I was in elementary school. The description instructed me to list three animals off the top of my head, to write them down on the space below. I remember the first was a lion, and the last was a deer. Turning to the next page, the book told me that the first animal revealed how I wanted other people to see me. The second animal revealed how other people actually saw me. The third showed how I truly saw myself.
Just like LUSH collects a variety of perspectives on the timeless force of flowers throughout art history, there are angles and layers to every individual, every alive organism. After Rizzo listed those flowers she favored, I made a new distinction, asking which she most related to. “You know, when I was younger, a daisy,” she mused in real time before deciding the comparison still fit. “I don't know that it would personify me, but I think I'd like to try to be sunny, like a daisy.” Sunny, like a white and lavender room two hours after sundown, in the middle of the longest winter the Lower East Side has ever seen. Bask in the glow of LUSH at Hashimoto Contemporary either online or in person through February 6th.
ART IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Rachel Gregor, Girl With Wildflowers, 2020
Jet Martinez, Respiro Suspiro, 2020
Bianca Nemelc, Couldn't Find the Forest So I Grew One of My Own, 2020