Mortimer’s new work builds upon the ‘Hoax’ series exhibited at the Armory Show, New York, in 2018. In the ‘Hoax’ series Mortimer subverted and reimagined the genres of still life and flower painting, creating fragmented depictions of dead and dying flowers juxtaposed with fluidly abstract backgrounds (originally derived from the chromatic striations of cracked plasma screens). The series was both a meditation on mortality – a contemporary form of vanitas – but also addressed the dialectic relationship between abstraction and realism in painting. In his new works Mortimer continues to investigate the still life theme but with two crucial new developments. These new paintings are vastly enlarged and for the first time combine spray painting with Mortimer’s characteristic brushwork.
By scaling up his compositions to a monumental size Mortimer produces an extraordinary visual dissonance. We are confronted with natural objects, flowers, leaves and vases, depicted in paint at many times their actual size. Secondly by using fine spray paint in his works Mortimer produces a cognitive rupture between areas of the image that appear to be out of focus and the foreground motifs which then assume vivid clarity. The relationship between figure and ground is problematised. On close inspection the illusion of pictorial reality breaks down as the marks and brushstrokes and clouds of fine paint that constitute the image are revealed.
Mortimer has long been fascinated by the way visual information is mediated by technology. His new works are flower paintings for the twenty-first century, complete with ruptures and glitches to remind us that the image – a photograph translated into paint – is derived from a screen and always several steps removed from reality. A ‘hoax’ is a form of deception and Mortimer’s flower paintings offer a paradoxical tension between realist painting, illusion and our understanding of the physical object before us; pigment on canvas.
Moreover, by calling his new paintings ‘Breed’, Mortimer points not only to the types of plants depicted, often bred to enhance particular characteristics, but a kind of proliferation, an endless replication, not only of natural forms but of images too.