The Shock of the Now Issue 70
Featured Exhibition Text
Jonathan Baldock
‘we are flowers of one garden’ Solo Exhibition
Stephen Friedman Gallery
25th January 2023

Despite the current frosty conditions suggesting that Spring is still a little way off, for his latest solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman artist Jonathan Baldock has created his own botanical garden of earthly delights, an anthropomorphic allotment all inspired by his relationship with his mother, the generational hand-me-down of art and craft expertise and her own love of horticulture. For the first time, Baldock introduces body parts cast from someone other than himself into his sculptures, and so his mother's visage emerges from the fictitious flowers that line the gallery. Life-sized they greet the viewer, these human-plant hybrids, where noses grow into elongated stigmas and cornea become corolla. Tactile, textile petals in hessian and linen encircle each ceramic countenance, as embroidered roots entwine, unable to penetrate the gallery floor to the fertile loam far below. Throughout the space, potted houseplants sit within vases or atop stools, all-ceramic sculptural totems that sprout additional extremities; hands, feet, and tongues. These flowers again come with added facial features, as lips and ears nestle among the staple carpel and stamen, while casts of the Baldock and his mother’s hands held in a tight embrace form a familial flower bud awaiting its time to bloom, reminiscent of hand-holding’s common presence in childhood, perhaps lost after the blossoming of adolescence. All are titled after lyrics from Dolly Parton’s folk hit ‘Wildflowers’, an autobiographical ode to one’s own agency, identity and idiosyncrasies, recorded and performed in three-part harmony with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

The gallery’s rear space, however, is dominated by Baldock’s ‘Mother Flower’, an overpowering plant whose plump, pillowed roots stretch out across the expanse of polished floor, as if ready to ensnare an unsuspecting viewer. In size and scale, it evokes the flesh-eating foliage found in The Little Shop Of Horrors or The Day of the Triffids, while its felt facade is adorned with markings and motifs found in European folk art. The artist’s own interpretation of foremost forest ecologist Suzanne Simard’s discovery and definition of the Mother Tree - the largest and eldest tree in a forest, with an inane intelligence and sensory memory enabling it to withstand changing weather conditions; provide suitable habitat and food supply for the forest’s fauna; and sustain well-balanced biodiversity - serves as the exhibition’s principal protagonist and an apt allegory for a matriarchal figurehead able to uphold a family unit and provide for younger generations. Alongside, an accompanying soundscape produced by musician Luke Barton samples recovered recordings of Baldock’s grandfather playing the accordion; conversations between his grandparents; the artist and his mother singing ‘Wildflowers’ to a ukulele backing; and the meditative murmurs of the Mother Flower herself.