When Blake wrote “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,” he could have been describing the work of Brooklyn-based painter Jared Deery, whose cosmic floral still lives deploy a simple, direct approach to challenge the head-scratching world of contemporary art.

Indeed, there’s a temptation to lace one’s work these days with the trappings of everything outside painting: sculpture, new technology, topical subjects, or popular culture. Little of the modern world’s debris is found in Deery’s work, though. For a few years now his focus has been on one unifying subject: the still life with flowers.

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Durning my recent studio visit, I asked Deery how he managed to narrow down his subject. He explained that after grad school, and much experimentation in different mediums, he only wanted to make work that felt pared-down. He had been considering the influence of his mother, also a painter, and his father, a photographer, and settled on the subject of a still life with flowers—a genre rooted in both the traditions of painting and photography.

The variation on a theme, particularly the still life, is not an unusual approach in painting. From a modernist giant like Giorgio Morandi to the deceptively direct but ingeniously inventive still life paintings of Holly Coulis, this is a familiar and effective strategy. What I responded to most in Deery’s work was where he takes off from them, going far into the hallucinatory realms of surrealism and symbolism (echoing Odilon Redon in particular).

In one painting, set in a landscape, Deery reduces of the vessel for his flowers to a smear of magenta and red. From this explodes turquoise stems that bare flowers resembling vaginas, nipples, assholes, maybe testicles. (Am I projecting? Your call.)

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Less overtly Freudian, a smaller painting of a deep, dioxazine purple offers one mysterious, butterfly-shaped flower peaking out from impenetrably dark shadows. Like each work, it opens the door to a different world, performing its new role like an actor trying on costumes.

This is Deery’s strength as a painter—the transformation of finite subject into something fantastical, like heaven in a wild flower. (Alessandro Keegan)

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