Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Tulipmania 1 ©Gordon Cheung. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery. 

 . Hand painted inkjet print on 335 gsm Somerset Advanced Satin paper. Image 50.8 x 40.6 cm

Tulipmania 1 and 2 are from a series of 12 prints made by Gordon Cheung, a British born Chinese artist who lives and works in London. He says that in his work he is trying to mirror 'a state of in-between-ness' which is 'more than personal', it is 'literally around the whole world’.'’.
Against a humble, self-effacing, sepia  background, the tulip stands in glorious technicolour. Embedded in the curl of the leaf there's a moment when the paint has been so thickly applied it sparkles like a jewel. Cheung says of his works 'They're meant to be artificially luminous, a metaphor perhaps for the loss of that Utopian vision of the future after the millennium bug threat, the dot com crash... the war on terror- and all before the current recession. Yet it's also meant to suggest a glimmer of hope.' 

Why Tulipmania?
Tulipmania 2 ©Gordon Cheung. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery. 

Tulips, so triumphant and self-contained, are the stuff that legends are made of. Once they'd arrived in Europe an early enthusiasm led to a speculative frenzy known as 'tulip mania'. Tulips were so much in demand they became a form of currency. Gardens were regularly and seriously plundered. Cheung uses the flowers to reference the golden age of  Dutch paintings of still life in the vanitas tradition - the word meaning not vanity but meaninglessness. With every stroke the artists showed their appreciation of everyday objects, including fruit and flowers, but at the same time invited us to reflect on the brevity of beauty. And how transitory and insignificant are our human concerns and achievements. In 17C Holland the tulip bubble burst. The frantic demand for tulip bulbs boosted prices to extremely high levels, then suddenly collapsed.

And just look again at that paper in the background. It is a page of  stock listings, the print so tiny as to be almost overlooked, but marking transactions of the kind which have serious consequences for the lives of every one.  Perhaps the tulip is the most un-flower-like flower, almost fleshy to touch, standing there with not so much a military but robotic precision. It can flow in wide rivers of passionate colour over fields and landscapes, but when dying it stoops and bows its head just as we do.

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