Best Floral Paintings at Art Basel

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By Jill Brooke

For centuries, artists have been drawn to flowers as fertile sources of inspiration to explore the human condition. At Art Basel in Miami, I saw evidence of flowers blooming in contemporary paintings, proving that flowers are part of modern art too.

This isn’t surprising. After all, as Artsy critic Sarah Gottesman notes, “A flower can represent reproduction or decay, purity or promiscuity, love or hardship. From white lilies representing the Virgin Mary to Jeff Koons’ flower puppy, flowers have been creative fodder for artists.”

But flowers are also an inspiration to make a museum or gallery trip a lot more fun.

As you know, we at Flower Power Daily look at the world through flowers because it makes everything happier, brighter and more interesting. 

So when I go to a museum or gallery, I go on a scavenger hunt looking for florals.

After all, when you hear about a banana taped to a canvas selling for $120,000 and see the price tags on a lot of art, you realize that few are in that economic zip code to afford these paintings. It’s still fun to go and see what is trending, however. And aside from the main heavyweight Art Basel exhibition, there was also SCOPE, where price tags are more accessible and many paintings are under $10,000.

Here were some of my favorites  – including Kehinde Wiley, WhIsBe and Diana Vurnbrand – and why.

1)Diana Vurnbrand‘s “Always Keep the Faith” –

This made me laugh and was so colorful. The plume of smoke was so realistic and loved how Diana Vurnbrand created roses in the hair as an artistic hat. This talented photographer, who was born in Lima, Peru, is really one of my favorite artists.  I added two examples of her work. Like us, she loves flowers and uses them in clever ways to bring joy and commentary to her work.

Diana Vurnbrand photograph with flowers, "Always Keep the Faith"
Photo Credit: FlowerPowerDaily
Diana Vurnbrand painting with flowers
Photo Credit: Flower Power Daily

2) Hyungin Park – Redemption

This South Korean artist managed to make something that is fantastical relevant as a result of the flowers. The flowers softened the edge which is what I found so appealing and the butterflies gave the painting movement. Plus if someone probed my head, flowers would be coming out of my skull too – at least in my thoughts. Not as well known of an artist but should get more attention from this painting.

Hyungin Park - Redemption - Painting with flowers
Photo Credit: FlowerPowerDaily

3) Amoako Boafo

This artist sold-out immediately. Art critic Alexandra Peers explained to me that part of his appeal is how he uses conventional applications of paint and design and then uses a finger painting technique for the faces. What I liked about this painting was that it had a guy in a floral shirt which is trending in the fashion culture. (Note how that is trending.) Boafo is from Ghana but lives in Vienna. His work was brought to the show by Marianne Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago, which has been influential in bringing African artists to the mainstream.

Amoako Boafo painting with flowers
Photo Credit: Jill Brooke

4) Justin Samson – Interior #20

What I liked about this painting was that it celebrated floral interiors. In recent years, minimalism brought a cold front into interior design. Outside of designers like Kit Kemp, many rejected florals instead of celebrating them. But people want an oasis and sanctuary, something cheerful and cozy. Many more designers are now incorporating flowers in enterprising ways. Samson has a talent for graphics and expressed this trend in a modern and inventive way. Notice how he even created a floral border in various graphics. I was told this painting was purchased by a real estate executive. Someone tell us who…

Justin Samson - Interior #20 - Floral decor painting
Photo Credit: Flower Power Daily

5) WhIsBe

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Brooklyn New York-based WhIsBe, whose pop art sculptures of iconic gummy bears have become the rage at street fairs and Burning Man festivals. (WhIsBe stands for What Is Beauty?) Now he was showing at Art Basel and Daniel Boulud was even making a special dessert in his honor. “At first, it represented the idea of innocence lost,” WhIsBe explains of his bears.  And how does one get redemption? Often through flowers which is why he is using flowers in some of the bears that hold a Department of Corrections sign as if in a mug shot. The bears are not only on canvases but as a 3D sculpture. Among the flowers are roses, sunflowers and daisies. In fact, since he customizes some of these sculptures, he made one for a girl mourning her grandmother, who loved daisies.

6) Aya Uekawa – Girl, Girl, Girl

Even though you can’t see this woman’s face, you know she is interesting because of how the flowers are used so brightly in her dress. This artist often uses flowers in the fashions of her characters, who don’t have many facial features. The team atNeumann Wolfson Art introduced me and my culture editor, Alison Bamford, to her art.

7) Enrique Martinez Celaya – The Forgetful

Flowers can be dark, too, and brooding. That’s what I liked about this painting. So many emotions reside in flowers including sadness, mystery and decay. These emotions are getting the spotlight in Celaya’s work and we can contemplate dark forces in our lives and spirits. But somehow his portrayal of this also offers light and beauty.

8) Shinique Smith – Sometimes/wonder

UBS is one of the key sponsors of Art Basel and this painting is in their permanent collection. It was showcased in their private dining room for VIP art buyers and clients. What I enjoyed about his piece is how flowers are pasted on to the canvas which added dimension as well as interesting texture.

9) Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley painted President Obama’s White House portrait using flowers from the various placed that he had lived to illustrate his past. I’ve been a fan ever since. Whenever I can see his work, I swoon. Here was one at Art Basel. Notice how he always uses flora in the background to connect old to new and then creates modern portraits.

10) Marc Chagall – The Blue Angel

Last but not least, my favorite artist is Marc Chagall. He really loved his wife, Bella, and she is often depicted in his art with passion and respect. My husband and I have a reproduction of his work in our bedroom. I also appreciate how, when he came to live in Nice, he felt right at home because of the flowers in the region, flowers that later inspired his work. “This flower-filled world colored my new life,” he remarked. A flower-filled life can enhance anyone’s life no matter the era, place or time. It can also make it a lot more fun to go to a museum or gallery.

Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.

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