Contemporary Artists Redefining Still Life Paintings
Depicting an arrangement of mundane inanimate objects, still life art is often a celebration of worldly material pleasures or a forewarning of their transitoriness and sometimes highlighting the brevity of human life. Though the roots of still life art date back to ancient times, it was during the early 17th century that it gained recognition as a genre. The realistic still life paintings of Northern Renaissance artists and vanitas paintings by artists of the Dutch Golden Age popularized the art form worldwide. But, it was still considered lowly due to absence of human subject matter.
In the avant-garde modern art movements, still life emerged as a popular feature, continuously evolving with several prominent artists dabbling in the genre. Today, many artists infuse contemporary twists on the timeless tradition by creating still life’s of modern-day items such as home interiors and food in a hyper realistic style. Below are seven contemporary artists who have explored the material world in their own distinctive manner, with their high-definition still life paintings strongly proving that even the most humdrum objects can be reimagined into masterpieces.
- Hilary Pecis
Filled with art-historical references and certainly art itself, still life paintings of Hilary Pecis are extremely vivid and vibrant. With prominent artists such as Alice Neel, Henry Taylor, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eva Hesse, Kerry James Marshall, Hilma af Klint, Francis Bacon, and Lari Pittman being her muse, her compositions often feature their painting monographs sometimes lining the tables or the bookshelves. Her interiors often depict Salon-style hangs of canvases with elements of both figurative and abstraction. In her popular painting bursting with bright shades of color, Camellias (2018), she has reproduced a poster used in Joan Mitchell exhibition, which can be seen hanging behind a giant bouquet of flowers, placed upon a pile of art books.
Owing to good demand, Pecis works are quite expensive and available only at leading online contemporary art marketplaces, however, if you are in love with her works and looking for affordable art, get a limited edition print from any reputed gallery.
- Nicole Dyer
Popular contemporary artist Nicole Dyer redesigns the grand Pop art tradition by incorporating representations of branded foodstuffs of today into her art. In her still art painting, My pantry (2018), she has made floor sculptures using cases of popular setzler brands La Croix and Vintage seltzer, along with colorful multimedia painting featuring a prominent yellow kitchen cabinet having a pack of Quaker Oats at its center. Several food items including faux candy conversation hearts, ginger chews, and froot loops adorn the cabinet.
Holding a keen interest in how food products can trigger intense thoughts and strong emotional responses in a viewer, she uses well-known consumer product brands in her still life paintings to explore the human emotions such as nostalgia, hope, or commitment. Also, the concept of consumerism is a major concern for her, she often depicts the accrued cult followings of famous seltzer brands and how popular brands use colorful, matte packaging to influence the consumer’s perception making their junk food look healthier.
- Holly Coulis
For Canadian painter Holly Coulis, the appeal of painting still life compositions lies in the stillness of the subjects itself. She believes that while other genres have a movement paused, a still life is always still, before painting and so do after, until rearranged or to disturbed by someone or something. Finding still lifes intimate and personal, she restructures the art in a fashion that makes the viewer feel as if gassing at unseen character’s personal belongings.
She begins by carefully outlining the forms of her still lifes, then moves those lines more, numerous times in varied and bold hues so as to infuse them with a radiant, vibrational aura. Next, she uses popular Pop art, Cubism, and even abstraction to give the flat color, and geometry an off-perspective outlook, adding playfulness at the same time. Solid colored lemons, uncanny vases, cigarettes, knives, and cats are recurring motifs in Coulis’s canvases.
Undoubtedly, these colorful canvases can enliven your stark walls instantly. No worries, if you are tight on budget and willing to invest in affordable art, prints are your go-to option.
- Anna Valdez
Still life paintings of Anna Valdez feature tables and floors filled with numerous art books of artists including David Hockney, Georges Braque, and Philip Pearlstein, plants, cow skulls (taking a cue from the works of Georgia O’Keeffe), conch shells, and even decorative vases reminiscent of ceramic traditions from all around the world. Though her canvases appear like simple compilations of mundane everyday objects, together they narrate the specific story of her painting investigation. Through its art lineage, symbolism, and composition, her still lifes seem more like skewed self-portraits.
Intrigued by the Dutch vanitas tradition of painting prevalent in the 17th century, which features symbols of death to show the transience of life and certainty of death, Valdez also attempts to bring to notice of the viewers the nature, time and hustling contemporary life by incorporating plants, cone shells, bones, and stones, ceramic objects, and fabrics in her compositions.
- Nikki Maloof
Canvases of Nikki Maloof are filled with animals— dead and alive—fish, oysters, and lobster resting on platters placed on top of a checkered tablecloth, to a lonely tiger in a forest, caged birds or a cat jumping around or simply gazing out a window. As vibrant as her still life paintings are, they also evoke a sense of confinement and anxiety. In Cry Whenever You Need To (2018), a bird cage is lined with a page of newspaper New York Times whose headline announces the painting’s emotional title, eliciting strong feelings of captivity as well as angst.
Strongly inspired by the ‘lush textures,’ ‘hyperdramatic arrangements,’ and ‘symbolism’ of the 17th-century Dutch vanitas tradition, she attempts to intensify and expand the ideas across her own compositions, by juxtaposing everyday ordinary objects and domesticated beings. Painting entirely from her own imagination, she loves creating psychological fascination and finding opportunities for everything that seems chaotic and foreboding to creepy, trying to narrate plays or stage operas about every day in her compositions.
- Lucia Hierro
Finding significance in the mundane objects of everyday life, Lucia Hierro explores ideas of exclusion, class and privilege in her still life. If you are looking for more meaningful affordable art, her digitally printed still lifes are the perfect pieces. Hierro’s series titled Bodegón (2015–present) are digital prints on fabric, felt, mixed Fabrics, or stretched on foam. As the title refers to both the Spanish term for still life and the small corner shops of New York, her works feature everyday objects such as a bottle of Fanta, a bright yellow package of Café Bustelo coffee, Yale coffee mug, etc. that conjure city lives that often cross economic and cultural divides.
Many of Hierro’s works also reconsider the legacy of 17th-century Dutch still-life painters. Though her still lifes portray the traditional objects used by Dutch artists including olives from across the Mediterranean, or Chinese porcelain, they become far more complicated, flushed with a tropical sense of color, often paying homage to her Dominican heritage.
Every material pleasure — the things we own, the clothes we wear, the objects on our tables, the furniture in our homes, food products consumed have stories weaved in about who we are, what we believe and value, and where we come from. Using these objects that inform, inspire and enhance the ordinary existence, still life artists create suggestive worlds, adeptly adding clues about the lives and beliefs of owners absent in the compositions.
Capturing still lifes ranging from bodega sandwiches, animals to artist monographs, contemporary artists have certainly reimagined the traditional still life with their fresh eyes and perspectives in their own distinctive style, at the same time maintaining strong focus on these everyday objects. It seems that these artists working today have initiated the Golden Age of still life infused with new ideas, thoughts, and processes in diverse and imaginative ways, all the while paying homage to its long and rich history.