This month, a new exhibition at Eykyn Maclean gallery, New York is the first to shed light on a lesser-known body of work in the expansive career of Andy Warhol: his Flowers series. Hitherto famed for his referencing of mass media and commercial branding imagery, the iconic pop artist took a different of tack in 1964 and, inspired by a photograph of seven hibiscus flowers by Patricia Caulfield, featured in Modern Photography Magazine, embarked upon a sequence of works reimagining the original. These were created between 1964 and 1965, and vary greatly in size, media and technique, something explored by the exhibition which looks to highlight the “nuances of [their] development”.
Flowers, in all their beauty, colour and delicate intricacy, have always enthralled mankind, and over time have been imbued with a variety of symbolic meanings according to their species, from pure white lilies to innocent daisies, and poppies for remembrance. Warhol is just one of many artists throughout the ages to have explored flowers in his work. Van Gogh, encouraged by his brother to paint brighter pieces, undertook a number of flower still lifes in 1886, including the first of his renowned sunflower paintings, and both Matisse and Monet are similarly celebrated for their floral depictions, from the former's collages to the latter's water-lilies. Modern-day flower pioneers include Jeff Koons – think Puppy, his West Highland Terrier topiary sculpture made from real flowers on a steel substructure – Damien Hirst, for whom flowers are a recurring motif, and photographer Nick Knight who captured a series of exquisite flower images for his book Flora.
"Flowers, in all their beauty, colour and delicate intricacy, have always enthralled mankind, and over time have been imbued with a variety of symbolic meanings according to their species."
Designers too are frequently employing flowers in the embellishment of garments and accessories. Examples of this can be found in many of the Valentino collections, most recently in the beautiful floral lace gowns from S/S12, while this season Prada have embraced a Sixties inspired motif, not dissimilar to Warhol’s flowers, to decorate a number of fur pieces. Raf Simons took his appreciation of flowers – already very apparent at his final Jil Sander A/W12 show – to new heights for his first couture show at Dior, where one million fresh flowers wallpapered the 5 different salons of the hôtel particulier venue, including peonies, carnations, delphiniums, orchids and roses. But, in terms of standout flower accessorising, it is hard to top the headpieces featured in Junya Watanabe’s S/S09 show, made from huge bunches of dried flowers bound with gingham or broderie anglais swatches.
Andy Warhol Flowers is at Eykyn Maclean until December 8.
Text by Daisy Woodward