Reconsidering Beauty (First Aid Flowers) / by Chris Hall

First Aid Flowers IV, 30 x 40, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2016

One year ago I wrote a blog post where I considered boycotting beauty in my art and wondered what would happen if all artists followed suit.  It wasn't the best of times and the post, while smart, was full of venom and the snarls of a wolf backed into a corner.  A few days later I followed up with a post where I concluded that in order for a boycott of beauty to work (to make people think about their complicity, either directly or through apathy, regarding hypocrisy and injustices) that they would have to be truly awful, nasty works of art.  The art would have to be brutish, cruel, cold, violent, and depraved.  They would have to be hateful, spiteful works.  They would have no redeeming value whatsoever . . ."  After some thought I decided that "I just don't think I have it in me to make that kind of art . . . I have too much heart in me."  My worst fault has always been the volatile mix of impatience with anger (though I have have gotten better over the years), and while impatience/anger has the positive of providing a motivation for accomplishing great things, the process can be destructive.  Fortunately this is not my preferred or even my natural state of mind.  I've always preferred grace and beauty and my natural state is much more sanguine (humor, cheer, idealism).  I wrote the boycott beauty posts one year ago, and when I look back and see how far I have come, I see now that these new paintings, this return to beauty, was inevitable.  2016 found me with a good work, the first in quite a long time (teaching at Kennesaw State University and publishing the occasional article for Burnaway), an upcoming exhibition in Poland, enjoying the mild comforts of spring amidst a flowering landscape,  and the company of good friends to whom I am very grateful (the richest of all these new developments). 

The new series is comprised of seven paintings, six of which are finished (the seventh will be completed in Poland).  They are flower paintings.  The last time I painted flowers to this degree was in 2001.  The circumstances were similar (new job, an exhibition, spring beauty, and a new relationship - all following a dark period).  It is as if the stars are aligned in the sky in the same configuration as before, as I have found myself in love with life again (imperfect as it may be, still).  These flowers, as before in 2001, are about healing, resurgence, and in the end, celebration.  

What does one do with flowers?  Of course we keep them around solely for the sake of beauty, but there is more to it than that.  Flowers (like all things beautiful) heal the spirit.  We give flowers to sick people in hospitals for this reason, and at funerals.  We keep flowers about us in our life to help ease life's troubles.  In the end beauty and grace are triumphant, conquering the ugliness in the world, which is why we also keep flowers around for celebratory scenes, such as holidays, weddings, parties, etc.

The healing power of flowers was what got me motivated to start this series.  After a rough night I woke to find a texted photograph of flowers on my phone, from a friend, with only one word attached to it:  happiness.  I knew what I had to do after that.  One month later I finished six new works . . .

I started each canvas by pasting a layer of collaged pain assessment charts that one would get in an emergency room.  I didn't like how the faces (read from left to right) transitioned from happiness to pain, so I reversed them.  These were to be healing flowers.  However after the first canvas was laid out I saw that the final face on the far right returned to pain.  It was at this time that I decided to embrace the new works as a kind of narrative, from one painting to the next.  This is also evident in how the red and yellow bands on the top of each canvas alternate and how the black band on the bottom parts of the canvases seem to meet if the six paintings are read as two triptychs.  Other elements that demonstrate that these are healing flowers are, of course, the repeated first aid symbol and the collaged ink drawings referencing pain and healing.  Finally, each canvas has a series of alchemy symbols as part of the composition.  Jung long ago made the connection between alchemical processes and healing.  Keeping this in mind I used only the symbols of alchemical processes, and not the symbols referencing any physical material, the suggested material being the human spirit.  The process of healing as described by these alchemy symbols furthers my concept of these paintings being a narrative.  Finally, we see that even in the sixth painting, the right side of the painting returns with the painful face (the emergency room pain assessment chart).  For the seventh and final painting I intend to make sure that the far right of the painting ends with happiness and that the cycle of recurring pain (the human condition) will end.  The concept of eternal recurrence symbolized in the form of the ouroboros (the snake swallowing its tail) will be shown as broken apart, grace and beauty triumphant.

I cannot predict the future and I do not know how this all will end, but despite my sometimes dark nature, my natural tendency is toward light.  I am an idealist.  These works have been helpful to me and I hope they may be helpful to others as well, and I suspect they will be.  Even if they do not grasp the levels of meaning within the works, there are always the flowers, and by themselves they have enough magic within them to carry the day and do what they do best:  happiness.