Phillip McCrum

Vanitas


Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, (curator Donna Wawzonek) Halifax NS — 2001

“Phillip McCrum [...] constructs voluminous compositions of dried flowers, chicken bones, insect carcasses and dried fruits and vegetables, dripping with wax and glue. Each work, Bug, Wax, and Bone, is unique in its contents and composition but together they reference the practice and subject matter of still-life painting, specifically the flower painting of 17th century such as those by Rachel ruysch or Jan Davidsz. These works are direct descendants of the Dutch painting tradition in their emblematic meanings of fleeting pleasures captured for visual consumption. In a contemporary context these works reference the craftsmanship associated with the objects of Vanitas painting, found in the metal and glassware it represents as well as the careful beauty of Dutch still-life painting itself. Although his works are very detailed and highly crafted, the mounts he uses – common candy dishes and martini glasses – refer to a mass-produced culture and craftsmanship [...]. At a distance these works appear to be simply dried flower arrangements, elegant and well composed. On closer inspection, the compositions ooze with the wax and glue which hold them together. These constructions are consciously well crafted but this is hidden under the layers of congealed wax and glue. McCrum emphasizes the visceral construction process for the viewer which renders the work’s craftsmanship irrelevant thus deconstructing the notion of craftsmanship itself.


[...] As Bryson stated about the historical precedents of McCrum’s work: ‘the fallen petals and damaged fruit call attention to the brevity of life and transience of earthly satisfactions, and thus suggest the desirability of turning our minds to the life eternal that is the main concern of Christian doctrine.’ Yet what McCrum does, in a conscious and explicit way is preserve these symbols of brevity by sealing the flowers and fruits in glue and wax. Although McCrum’s work most likely is not referencing a Christian doctrine it does embody the infulgences of food and visual art, and comments on the consumption of both.”

— Donna Wawzonek, “Reconsidering Vanitas”, Vanitas exhibition catalogue