Walking down into the room where are Maisie Cousins’ photographs hang, is like stepping onto fresh cut grass, moistened by the morning dew. In a gradient of luminous pinks, the images shine. The lighting with which they were shot confers on the photographs a clean and glossy appearance. I have entered the girly world of young artist Cousins, punctuated with exotic touches of colours, and a slimy quality covering the surface of the subjects she has chosen.
She compiles elements from nature, the human body, flora and fruits. In this organic lexicon, peonies, lace leafs, kiwis, bums, hands, and lips coexist in the simplest of ways. The composition of these elements elevates what is natural in this world, but which always seems to be exaggerated to the point of vulgar and taboo. Cousins places a hand on a bum, shows a flower’s stem erect, leaves hair where it should be/leaves hair in alone and in its original location, and zooms in on the details of a fruit with a crisp spontaneity. In the adjacent room, the walls are painted in coral, and the floor is covered with shiny mirror paper. This is a borderline kitsch environment which l is well suited to the nature of the art works.
On the screens which are hung or placed directly on the ground, flowers live and breathe. Drops of water and insects climb on petals, accentuating the idea of sensuality in nature. From this room, I could better understand the parallel with the previous one: just like the millipede crawls on the rose, the hand touches the body. The aim seems to be to sublime Mother Nature. Body parts which could be seen as sexual, or a flower’s stem which could be associated with a sexual organ tone down, and become sensual. Cousins uses enough to repulse, yet not enough to disgust. I find myself caught in the middle, satisfied with this feeling. I have encountered many artists who use graphic images purely to grab the viewers’ attention. In this instance, it is achieved with a sense of subtlety and refinement.
The photographs are surprisingly busy, as they are already a cropped shot taken from a larger picture. The details appear so clearly that I am tempted to go over each one of them and appreciate the features of a petal, the seed of a kiwi, or the nails of a finger. Although it is possible to do so, I take a step back and realize that the photographs have a bigger impact when viewed from afar. The exploration starts with the alliance of each element defining the subject matter. What is shown by Cousins is the reality, the rest belongs to one’s imagination.
Grass, Peonie, Bum: Maisie Cousins at TJ Boulting (17 May to 24 June 2017)