When a flower is not just a flower

Artist Marcel Cousins offers insight into his artwork from the RACV Art Collection to inspire your first Creation Station project.

Creation Station is an art project designed to inspire and engage with RACV Club members online. Featuring key pieces from the RACV's art collection, learn about the artists in the collection, be inspired to make your own creation, and share a photo of your artwork to be posted in our Club Instagram stories.

First off is Marcel Cousins, a Melbourne-based artist working in the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture and installation. Although not immediately obvious, his work is about appropriation. He ‘borrows’ from the world around him, including nature, logos, everyday objects and images from art history. In Calibrachoa (Million Bells) 2019, he has borrowed from the natural world. He elevates this common flower variety, by distilling it into simple layers of colour that have a distinct Japanese feel. By removing this flower from its original surroundings, he has recontextualised it to give it new meanings. Cousins uses an airbrush to create flat images with vibrant colours, strong lines and soft fades.

What else could you use to create this effect? There's no right or wrong way to create your response to the artwork. Use whatever art materials you have in the house and share a photo of your creation on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #RACVCreationStation to be featured on our stories. Next artist featured for Creation Station will be Lara Merrett and Kathryn Ryan. Keep an eye out on RACV Club Facebook and Instagram and get creating!

The happy prince by Lara Merrett

Lara Merrett, The happy prince, 2009, synthetic polymer paint and ink on canvas, 183 x 168 cm. Courtesy the artist, photography Christian Capurro. RACV Art Collection.

Calibrachoa by Marcel Cousins

Marcel Cousins, Calibrachoa (Million Bells), 2019, airbrushed acrylic on canvas, 160 x 120 cm. Courtesy the artist and James Makin Gallery, photography Christian Capurro. RACV Art Collection.

Top Paddock by Kathryn Ryan

Kathryn Ryan, Top Paddock, 2011, oil on canvas, 137 x 183 cm. Courtesy the artist, photography Christian Capurro. RACV Art Collection.

What was the inspiration for Calibrachoa (Million Bells) 2019?

My paintings are informed by magazines, the Internet and the world of graphic logs, with shifts in scale, content and materials. The work sets out to shed light on the way we receive and interpret the world around us and the media systems that influence and define how we see the world. 

Similar to a landscape artist, my aim is not merely to represent the world around us but to show the environment in a new previously inconceivable light. Art should not merely serve as a mirror but present a mirror image on a slightly obtuse angle, simultaneously showing us what we know and what we couldn’t perceive before.

Your practice is underpinned by a theme of appropriation, can you explain what this means and what the viewer could consider when engaging with this particular artwork? 

In the past, my work looked at the mass production of images and objects in today’s contemporary consumer culture and investigated how these images and objects are represented in the media. It included what implications these developments have on an artist’s use of appropriation techniques. 

The consumer culture, everyday objects and images that surround us serve as a reservoir of the collective unconscious. Acquiring and quoting this material equates to seeking to tap into this unconscious. 

More recently, I have moved away for this approach as the world we live has become more complex and complicated, and as an artist trying to comment on such a world can be challenging. As a result, I have chosen to look at the things that are in close proximity to me.

To look at the objects and articles around me that perhaps we experience on a daily basis. Due to their proximity, we often overlook their beauty, complexity and the impact they have on our lives. As we find ourselves in the current situation of social isolation, this idea seems more poignant than ever.    

You work in the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture and instillation, what role does technology play in your work?

Current technology, in particular digital media, has opened up possibilities for the artists and their audience that have made way for a collective experience and a new role for the audience, in the critical evaluation of works. 

Technology and the idea of printed reproduction techniques and multiple production methods has formed a core component of my art practice for the past 20 years. I have a particular interest in transformations brought about by the printing press, and the ramification for the dissemination of information that informs or misinforms and changes according to the context in which it appears.

What materials have you used for this artwork and what factors guided your choice of materials for this particular subject?

Through the use of photo-media the work Calibrachoa (Million Bells) translates an image of a flower that did exist somewhere but has been filtered by process of computer manipulation and painted on canvas using a spray gun and airbrush, mimicking industrial methods of production. The painted components of the work are not just faithful reproductions of the source material but have been worked on and developed over a period of time, allowing for chance and experimentation to play a role in the final outcome. 

The flowers are a pictorial representation of a three-dimensional experience. Like the elements of a Japanese garden, the painting aims to represent an experience of nature but one that has been manipulated and highly stylised. The result is a stereotypical representation of a flower, similar to an imaginary flower, that allows the viewer to relate their own memories and experiences of nature and in effect complete the picture.      

You’ve spent many years in Japan and completed a master's degree at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and earned a doctorate at Tama University. How does this deep affiliation with Japan influence your work?

I think the experience of living and studying in Japan has had a profound impact on the way I see the world and the experience is still something that shapes my work. Japan is a unique country with a long and complex history, which like most other countries in the world has seen many changes as a result of globalisation yet has been able to retain many aspects of its unique culture intermixed with outside influences. 

Globalisation has resulted in a complex process of mixing and hybridisation. Cultural icons, images and ideas are mixed and matched using appropriation techniques. This process is not limited to visual expression but has become an intrinsic part of contemporary existence. The work Calibrachoa (Million Bells) has been influenced by Japanese animation, traditional ukiyo-e woodblock prints, packaging, signage and calligraphy.

You’re living in Melbourne, has this had any impact on your artistic practice?

Melbourne is home and while I enjoy travelling it is always nice to come home. There are lots of different things happening in Melbourne and a healthy arts community in a city where people appreciate and value the arts. 

I have been at Melbourne Girls Grammar for the past eight years working in the Art Department. More recently I have joined the teaching staff and sharing my knowledge and experience with the students and has been very rewarding. Art is ultimately a communal experience and to see the students build on my knowledge, with their own perspective of the world is always fulfilling.     

We are asking our Club Members to create their own artistic response to your artwork, what’s your tip for getting the creative juices flowing?

My work sets out to provoke thought rather than a definitive cultural statement. When viewed in a variety of contexts both physically and philosophically the work serves as a departure point that will hopefully encourage discussion and debate instead of providing a definitive point of view.

I would like the viewers to consider their experiences and understanding of the world and to reflect on the things that are around them and the eternal forces that shape our understanding of the world. In today’s contemporary life we are exposed to images, ideas, colours, materials, and technology like no other time in our human existence. 

With exposure to so many images and objects in today’s contemporary consumer culture, people should not underestimate their visual literacy.

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