The Ashmolean Museum’s renowned historical collections are the inspiration for two contemporary artists whose new works will be on display in the Museum from 8 July to 14 January 2024.
The two simultaneous exhibitions in Gallery 8 feature paintings by critically acclaimed British artists Flora Yukhnovich and Daniel Crews-Chubb. The shows open the Ashmolean’s new exhibition series AshmoleanNOW, in which UK-based contemporary artists are invited to create new work inspired by the Ashmolean’s collections.
Invited to spend time immersed in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2022, Flora Yukhnovich (b. 1990) was drawn to the Still-Life Paintings Gallery and the floral, fleshy and dark elements that can be found in Dutch flower paintings of the 17th and early-18th century by artists such as Ambrosius Bosschaert, Adriaen Coorte, Clara Peeters and Rachel Ruysch. Through a literal and metaphorical collaging process, archetypical motifs of idealised and controlled beauty are combined with references to the female characters of horror movies such as The Witch, Carrie and Raw.
Yukhnovich says, ‘Flowers are the reproductive organs of plants and the art historical symbol of puberty and virtue. Horror films like The Witch, Carrie and Raw revolve around a central female character who becomes dangerous or monstrous as she hits puberty. The paintings come out of these opposing ideas around puberty, reproduction and the female body.’
For this exhibition, Flora has created a powerful series of dramatic paintings featuring intense red, pink, peach and green tones. Existing in a constantly fluctuating state between abstraction and figuration, these paintings explore ideas surrounding dualities and multiplicities, transcending painterly traditions while fusing high art with popular culture and intellect with intuition.
Daniel Crews-Chubb (b. 1984, pictured right) took inspiration from the ancient sculptures of deities, mythical creatures and non-human figures found in the Ashmolean, experimenting with their expressions and postures. His monumental, mixed-media paintings feature bold, fantastical figures that are genderless. Crews-Chubb calls them ‘immortals’, referencing the fact that throughout history humans have ‘immortalised’ themselves by building monuments and creating works of art.
Crews-Chubb’s abstracted works are created through a laborious process of addition and revision, including drawing, impasto, and collage, and with a mixture of materials from oils to sand and spray paints. The result is energetic, textured paintings with a three-dimensional quality. Despite being informed by religious and mythical figures from ancient history, Crews-Chubb’s work is nonetheless concerned deeply with the human condition today.
‘With my work, I’m not trying to make something decorative. I’m trying to make something that I think is powerful, outward-looking, which makes you ask what it is to be human.’
Despite stylistic differences, the work of both artists links inspirations from art history with a lively and contemporary painterly language. It conveys a timeless passion for the medium of painting, its materials and processes, and invites visitors to look at the Museum’s historical collections afresh.
Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean Museum, said: ‘Ashmolean NOW aims to generate creative, multi-faceted conversations between the past and present and between artists and audiences. It’s a real thrill for the Ashmolean to work with dynamic artists like Flora and Daniel on the first Ashmolean NOW exhibitions. Their impressive pieces show a genuine engagement with the Museum’s historic collections, reinterpreting Dutch still-life and the ancient world to create something wholly new.’