Bas Meeuws (1974) is a passionate photographer who has given a new twist to the traditional Dutch still life with flowers. Meeuws does not paint his flowers with a brush and oil paints, as his famous predecessors from the 17th century did. His images come from a digital reflex camera. Painstakingly and with great ingenuity Meeuws processes his pictures of flowers until he has created exactly the right image. The result is a series of unique and layered works of art.
Meeuws’ floral still lifes clearly draw inspiration from those created by the great 17th century Dutch masters. You will see the same lush splendour of flowers, the same subtle compositions set against a black or dark grey background. What you will not see is that Meeuws’ treatment also bears a significant resemblance to those used by the floral painters. The groundwork for Meeuws’ monumental pieces is formed by digital photographs of individual flowers, all taken with the same lighting. This digital library of flowers is the modern equivalent of, for instance, the 17th century tulip books. In the 17th century, flowers were so vastly expensive that a painted bouquet was cheaper than a vase filled with real flowers. Painters were equally unable to afford such vases full, and instead, painted flowers from their catalogues. In terms of their precision and time-consuming nature, Meeuws’ pieces can be compared to those of the old masters. Once he has composed a still life from different flowers in his digital library, he still has to remove the tiny black lines that remain visible along the contours of the flowers. Meeuws removes them all by performing a painstaking clean-up. In all, creating a complicated still life will take 40 to 60 hours.
And like the 17th century floral still lifes, Meeuws’ photographs are wonderful and rich images in themselves, but the viewer’s appreciation of the work will only increase once he knows more about the backgrounds of the genre. It is not just practical considerations that have moved Meeuws and his predecessors to compose their work out of tulip books or from a digital library. This method also allows the artist the freedom to arrange bouquets that you would not normally see in real life. Flowers from different corners of the world, and that bloom in different seasons, are brought together, symbolising the abundance of Paradise. We witness a unity that cannot be found on earth, but all the more in the Garden of Eden. These works of art further reinforce the contrast between living, real nature and such heavenly, constructed images. For the viewer they form a reminder of the transitory nature of life on earth. Tulips in themselves blossom only for such a short period of time that they were the flower of choice for the 17th century masters to represent impending death. The insects, which can often be found in their work, also refer to mortality. Insect damage affects the flowers. Only thanks to these artists the flowers have been frozen at the very peak of their splendour. Their work surpasses the eternal cycle of life and death, offering beauty and comfort.