A Return to Beauty
The photographs under the series title, The Beauty of Life, are unapologetic examples of aesthetic comeliness. In each of Elaine Waisglass's large format photographs, a floral profusion dominates, anchored in a vase of extraordinary complement, set upon a wooden tabletop that recurs and is common to each work in the series. There is no perceptible setting beyond the wooden surface, as each subject pronounces against a murky blackness. The colourful blooms are of near impossible intensity, and along with sometimes intricate matrices of stems and leaves and decoratively patterned vases, the compositions appear at once photographic and painterly. Waisglass coaxes the latter by utilizing techniques of painting in the digital environment, to accentuate the plasticity of the forms, and takes this further again during the process of printing the photographs, adjusting ink flow and colour to achieve the desired densities and complex hues.
Hovering somewhere between real and unsettlingly real, the viewer is left to reconcile the contrast in values between the simple, hazy ground of woodgrain and blackness and the painstakingly detailed textures of flora and vessel. What emerges is a focus on the light that punctuates the subject: sometimes dappled, sometimes brilliant, sometimes fading to gloaming. It is perceived as natural light, sunlight or moonlight, and thus each photograph becomes a portrait of time, the marking of a moment in the cycle of a day, and collectively, the chosen varieties document the larger cycle of the seasons.
Waisglass observes these passages of time firsthand with each of her botanical choices, as she grows them in her own garden, an environment that she has nurtured over the past twenty years, adhering to the landscape design philosophy set out by William Robinson in his prescriptive book, A Wild Garden (1870), which aligned with tenets of the Arts & Crafts movement of the same period.
Her research into the Arts & Crafts movement with respect to the garden design, which was propelled by her living in an Arts & Crafts-designed house, also found resonance with her artistic sensibility. And so the idea of cycle telescopes out again to a yet larger time frame, as she celebrates and embraces the 19th-century methodology of the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts movements, revisiting their shared notions that nature is the exemplar of beauty. Working, too, to the embodied ideal of Arts & Crafts practitioners that concept and execution are best handled by the same individual, Waisglass extended beyond the point of capture in both directions to include, at one end, the planting of her subject flowers, and at the other, undertaking to print her own work. In The Beauty of Life, her singular, repeated expression—a vase of flowers in fullest bloom—consolidates history's beauty with a contemporary lens, lauding nature's precision.
By Claire Christie
Elaine Waisglass is a Toronto based photographer, an alumnus of the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU), where she studied sculpture and fine arts. She currently serves on the board of her local Historical Society and is a current member and former board member of the William Morris Society of Canada. She has worked as a broadcast journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and is an avid organic gardener.
Her painterly photographs are a celebration of the garden she designed, inspired by the 19thcentury landscape designer William Robinson, and his 1860 book “The Wild Garden”. Created over the past nineteen years, in collaboration with horticulturalist Cynthia McCarthy, the garden has become a singular and celebrated example of the Arts and Crafts Movement and philosophy.
UPCOMING SOLO EXHIBITION: "The Beauty of Life"
April 5 – 25, 2014
641 Yonge Street, Toronto
opening April 5, 10 am - 5 pm
UPCOMING SOLO EXHIBITION:
"The Beauty of Life"
May 1 – 30, 2014
First Canadian Place Gallery
100 King Street West, Concourse Level, Toronto
by appointment, phone 416.862.9380
"Two Tales of the City: finding beauty in Dystopia and Utopia"
February 12 – March 23, 2013
Edward Day Gallery, Toronto
(two person show)
“The Quest for Beauty in a Garden"
October 3, 2012 – January 15, 2013
First Canadian Place Gallery, Toronto
“A Year in my Arts & Crafts Garden”
May 31 – July 21, 2012
Edward Day Gallery, Toronto