In her current work Beth Lipman presents an interpretation of the ‘still life.’ Each piece is a formal, three-dimensional recreation of a painting (or a detail) from centuries past. The subject matter, now seemingly benign, was in its day laden with Christian symbolism and still life paintings could be seen as veritable battlefields of good versus evil in one complete microcosm.
Still life paintings are a combination of technical achievement, symbolism, and sensuality, reflecting the artist’s skill. Each object was obsessively rendered, the perspective of the composition carefully chosen. Initially, in the early 17th century, still life symbolism was directly linked to Christianity. Fruit was thought to be symbolic of the blood of Christ; apples, redemption and victory over sin. Walnuts represented the tree of the cross or the kernel of life and birds and butterflies symbolized resurrection. Mice and insects were symbolic of evil and the presence of a squirrel was a sign of the devil. After the middle of the 17th century, still life paintings reflect the prosperity of the time. Fruit baskets became symbols of abundance or domestic harmony. Birds and cups stood for the wondrousness of the universe. Walnuts and half peeled lemons symbolized a remedy for poison, which was needed for those who drank from gold or silver cups. Mice, insects, and lizards represented decay and the transience of all things.
In re-contextualizing their symbolism for the America of the 21st century, Lipman renders the paintings material in glass or clay, preserving the original composition in the new object. Their heft and form become their essence. Their sheer beauty leads us to the very edge of luscious ripeness, richness and excess. By inference the artist reveals the decadence of opulence and the stench of rot. Lipman draws on the “universality of our need for food and drink, our common knowledge of the fullness of a grape, the smooth skin of a pear, or the delicacy of a leaf,” and finds it “is as relevant today as is was in the 17th century. Today, as four centuries ago, we are living in a time of affluence.” The presence of these objects continues to symbolize the good fortunes of wealth and prosperity -- their abuse, the misfortunes of waste and decay. Lipman’s work suggests that the line is transparently thin.
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Beth Lipman: CV