Paintings of grief

Chicken and I made our way yesterday along the Regent’s Canal, stopping to watch two boats go through the lock and then help close the gates, to the Art Space Gallery to see Nick Miller’s series of paintings called Vessels: Nature Morte. In Sligo Miller painted a series of pictures of flowers, mostly past their best, as a way of connecting with his mother who was dying over two years in London.


Miller would visit his mother and then take home some of her lifetime’s collection of pots. He would find what flowers he could in the West of Ireland countryside and paint them in his mother’s pot. At the same time he was a painter in residence at a hospice, adding to the sense of the rapid fading of life and beauty that is captured in the paintings. Miller would take photos of the pictures to show his mother when he visited her.


He deliberately painted the pictures fast, on ready-prepared and intentionally dark and almost dull backgrounds. Getting up close to the paintings, particularly one of cherry blossom, I could see a riot of colour and brushstrokes that delighted me. Chicken was more taken with the space of the gallery than the paintings, but she pointed out—and I agreed—that the bigger paintings, perhaps five times lifesize, were the best.


I liked the paintings enough to buy a book of them, which includes a specially commissioned short story by Colm Toibin about Elektra walking in a garden with her mother, Clytemnestra, and imagining her mother murdered, as she was (perhaps with Elektra helping). Elektra loves flowers too: “I seek out iris and larkspur and rockrose, and I will take them to my room and study them for their subtlety. Alone, away from her, I crave what is purple and blue and filled with shade.”

You can see many of the pictures here:




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