Thames & Hudson publish underwater photographic vanitas works in a new book titled Natre Morte


Michael Petry explores how contemporary artists are re-invigorating the Still Life tradition. Featuring 'Grace' and ' The Great Leveller'.

Natre Morte by Michael Petry, 2016
Paperback 288 pages  -  Publisher: Thames and Hudson
ISBN: 9780500292235  -  Dimensions: 27.5 x 22.7 cm

This visually stunning book reveals how leading artists of the twenty-first century are reinvigorating the still life, a genre previously synonymous with the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Old Masters.


Michael Petry’s careful curation celebrates works by emerging and established artists alike, from all over the globe, including Alexander James Hamilton, John Currin, Elmgreen & Dragset, Renata Hegyi, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Jeff Koons, Beatriz Milhazes, Gabriel Orozco, Elizabeth Peyton, Marc Quinn, Sam Taylor-Wood and Ai Weiwei.


Short but compelling introductions begin each chapter and are followed by dramatic, visually led spreads that pair each work with a perceptive reading of its significance to the still-life tradition.


'A cabinet of curiosities, both beautiful and weird' - Peter Conrad, Observer


'Highlights the rich tradition that looms behind even the starkest conceptual art' - World of Interiors

TEXT TRANSCRIPT - Alexander James’s ‘Grace’, from his Vanitas series, depicts a floral arrangement of tulips that recalls Dutch paintings from the seventeenth century. The difference is that his bouquet has been photographed underwater. Vase and stool sit inside a tank filled with water as light filters gently across the scene, illuminating the individual petals and creating an intense painterly effect. James has captured the contrast of dark and light typical of the Dutch tradition, while making an image that is strikingly contemporary.

Alexander James and McDermott & McGough conjure in their photographs an idealized time past that overtly situates these works in the painterly tradition of the still life. For his Vanitas series, James sought to reproduce the atmosphere of the old master paintings by photographing studio props and dead animals underwater. The soft refractions of light passing through water lent the paintings a painted effect. Alexander James and Shirana Shahbazi have both constructed photographs that recall Dutch still lifes of the seventeenth century, but their methods differ. The flowers, skull and butterfly in James’s Vanitas, ‘The Great Leveller’ were shot underwater; submerged in a large tank, they rest on a marble shelf and shimmer in their watery tomb. Shahbazi’s Stilleben-33-2009 presents a similar group of objects but the crispness of her photograph is at odds with James’s mottled tones. One may feel like a stark warning of mortality, the other a half-remembered image from a dream, yet both successfully move the imagery of the still life forward.

>>>   Thank you for reading, please lets stay connected.

>>>   discover more about my work here on the journal.