Madeleine Palmer behind the scenes
Through her work, Melbourne based artist Madeleine Palmer seeks to remind us that the natural world is more than just a backdrop to our lives. Drawing on the traditional practice of still life flower painting while seeking to redefine those traditions, Palmer coins a new term: Unstill life.
Madeleine Palmer's work recontextualises floral still life painting
"My work considers how the tradition of floral still life painting can be recontextualised through a contemporary lens by redefining the experience of current environmental and ecological issues and its relationship to me as an artist", says Palmer.
As if her paintbrush has been propelled by some otherworldly force, Palmer’s paintings evoke the illusion of movement—a common theme in her work, along with growth and change in the living world, as well as our experience and representation of it.
Realities shift and swirl as ribbons of colour dance across the canvas in bold strokes and confident curves, charged by an elemental energy we cannot see but somehow can still sense. Incredibly, her fervent brushstrokes invoke a sensory experience beyond that of sight—it’s as if we can feel the wind that warps the floral subject before us. Hues of lilac wash across the canvas as if in slow motion as a distorted assortment of petals come into view. In another piece, a vibrant palette of reds, blues and greens contort together, backed by sandy skies.
Last year, Palmer gained her Bachelor of Fine Art Honours at RMIT and also opened her solo exhibition, ‘Biomorph’ at Montsalvat Arts Centre. A finalist of the Environmental Art and Design Prize and semi-finalist in the Doug Moran Portrait Prize, Palmer’s work sits in a place between benign and malign, beautiful and grotesque, poised yet ferocious. It is the complex nature of both her work and the response it commands that continues to fuel interest in her emerging career.
As you might imagine, Australian native flowers—both fresh and dried—fill her studio space in Warrandyte, close to state parkland. Kangaroo paw and banksia burst from vases and vessels of all shapes and sizes (including a blue-hued Bombay Sapphire Gin bottle), in wispy arrangements reminiscent of her oil paintings. Purple Mulla Mulla’s vie for attention on her desk, while burnt sienna paper daisies droop from a repurposed glass bottle.
Surrounded by bushland, the light-filled studio is the ideal setting for an artist inspired by nature. Palmer agrees, admitting that her practice is inevitability influenced by her surroundings, as well as the changing seasons.
A small library of books are scattered and stacked throughout the space. Painting books, sketch books, renaissance art books, flower books…you name it—if there’s inspiration to be found, Madeleine will read, reference, and annotate it.
Palmer’s connection to nature is everywhere—in the mounds of oil paints that resemble mini-mountains, in the earthy colour palettes of her paintings, in the serenity of her.