EmmA BENNEtt CORRESPONDENCE FW emma, i think it might be useful to open our conversation with some reference to the historical painting that is so important to your work. i am thinking particularly about Flemish and dutch still life painting of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. this genre of painting quickly extended as far as italy, spain and France to the south of the lowlands, and the hapsburg empire to its east. are there certain artists of this period that have been particularly inﬂuential on your work or whose imagery you have adapted to your own paintings? eB i would say that i am inﬂuenced by this era of still life painting as a whole, rather than by individual artists who worked within the genre. Yes, it is the subject as a whole that interests me. i love the luminosity of the ﬂowers and fauna set against deep, dark backgrounds, the jewel-like colours, and the shapes of the delicate forms, which are characteristic of numerous artists of that time. Of course, i have some favorites and there are individual paintings, or rather elements of individual paintings, which i return to again and again because i feel a particular emotional response or attraction towards them. Artists whose work i’ve referenced directly include Jan Weenix (1640/91719), Willem van Aelst (1627- 1683), Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and Abraham mignon (1640-79). Sometimes i think that i don’t actually like the original paintings in their entirety. they are frequently such full images that there is almost too much to look at. i am fascinated by these paintings because they repel me to a certain extent while also drawing me in to look again and again. i regularly ﬁnd something new that appeals to me within a painting that i have been looking at for years and years and that is very satisfying. i do like it that the fullness of the paintings refers to the abundance and continuation of life and the generosity of nature as it keeps reproducing and providing. i don’t get particularly involved in the symbolism of individual ﬂowers but i am interested in the representation of fragile life forms as reminders of our limited time, that is, as memento mori. i do ﬁnd it interesting to think about still life painting as the artist’s way of extending life and making permanent the ﬂowers and fruit that were otherwise inevitably going to decay. these paintings respond to the human desire for eternal life. they also place small, often overlooked life forms on centre stage and ask us to take time to value and appreciate nature and the things that surround us, the value of our lives, and of all living things.
FW are you able to describe how inﬂuence, reference and appropriation operate in the course of your painting practice?
eB i seek out still life paintings in museums and galleries and i collect catalogues and reproductions. it’s like an ongoing treasure hunt for me, and the reproductions i have are amongst my most prized possessions. i always work from reproductions and i photocopy or scan the reproductions so as to alter the tonality and scale to suit my needs. i tend to start with just one element from an image, one that i connect with, and i develop my paintings by adding fragments of diﬀerent images into my own composition. i have a kind of dialogue with the various elements of the painting as i work. in terms of appropriation, i quote from fragments of reproductions rather than the original paintings. i often try to maintain the tonality of the warm, faded colourplate. However, i never really try to make a faithful reproduction—that doesn’t really interest me; i edit and alter the imagery to make it ﬁt my needs.
22 AmBiguOuS PRACtiCES