A Certain Slant of Light
January 14th - March 4th, 2023
A Certain Slant of Light has grown from Sarah Bedford’s dark, a place in which plant life seems to still steadily, yet painstakingly sprout. Multidimensional canvases are filled to the edges with orchestras of dramatic daffodils, daisys, lilies and tulips. Flowers, in the artist’s words, “are a visible reminder of the fragility, beauty and arc of life in this shadowy, broken world”, and in the case for this exhibition, transform into pretty, and longing metaphors painted in acrylic and oil pastel. Palms, sticks, stems, weeds, leaves and vines sprinkle amongst seeds of dread, questioning ideas of existential measurement. If distance from death is in dying, is distance in death also in life itself?
Growing up on an isolated, and austere cattle ranch, it seems as though the environment set to propel Bedford’s joyous obsession with flowers, also produced a deep and personal despair—one that would magnify around the dim afternoon light, on those especially long, winter months. Bedford’s early commitment to hunting, gathering and archiving of seeds and flowers throughout her peculiar youth shared similarities with Emily Dickinson’s own experiences, more than 100 years earlier. The poet, who wrote There’s a certain Slant of light in 1861, was said to be a major recluse during her own puritanical, and strange childhood. She spent most of her time alone in nature, which presumably guided her to pursue her passions in botany as early as the age of 9. Gathered over many years, and preserved for scientific, and horticultural purposes, Emily Dickinson’s herbariums, or collections of classified and dried specimens, lay beautifully together, arranged to showcase each plant cutting’s sometimes eccentric qualities, and striking original pigments. In the case of Bedford’s arrangements, flowers instead stem from personal memories of working in her mother’s garden, an aspect of her painting process that she describes with words like layered, pressed, then in brackets impressed. These memories generate Bedford’s ever-evolving subject matter, or ‘hybrids’ as she calls them, plucked from both spending time in nature, and her more recent fourteen years of working as a professional florist.
Expertly, Bedford is able to identify over 2000 angiosperms by sight, yet, The Seed, 2023, is the only painting that depicts a plant which exists outside of Bedford’s memory, and in reality; a very special sylene stenophylla. Over ten years ago, a group of Russian scientists regenerated this plant from tissue matter found in Siberia’s permafrost. Inside of a 30,000 year old ice-blocked squirrel chamber, this insane micropropagation of fossil fruits extracted amidsts ancient hay, and animal fur, successfully produced a fertile plant, with an extra-sweet ability to bloom beautiful white flowers. The ethics behind an experiment like this, one mixed with exhilarating scientific advantages, and daunting sinister potential, echoes Bedford’s indulgent intrigue —tied— personal discomfort into mystery…with the “unknowingness of it all”. The static iciness that pierces through the painting's pale, and chilled florals, insinuates the radical acceptance of Bedford’s own conflicted psychological enclosure, planted in and out of future and past. Like the painting’s absence of sun, an impending doom is hard to avoid, though Bedford’s hopeful baby and sky blue hues simultaneously remind us of growth even without it, of life’s certain uncertainties.
Written by ~ Clare Gemima
Photo credit: Willy Somma