Pokeberry Persuasion, 2016. 24x36” Pigment ink print. © Jason DeMarte
Michigan-based photographer Jason DeMarte exhibits his first Boston show, “Confected,” at Gallery Kayafas in the South End. DeMarte’s work explores how the natural world collides with our hyper-consumerist society in a series of constructed photographs.
Saturated in color, the compositions blur the line between perceptions of whimsy and beauty in hyper-perfected depictions of a “natural world.” Small birds, insects, and various species of plants give a nod to the subjects of traditional still life paintings. By juxtaposing commercially produced products in shiny wrappers with flora and fauna, we are forced to reckoned with what we perceive to be natural, organic, full of life, etc.
All of his scenes appear to exist in a studio, where artificial lights produce crisp, even harsh images. Even the light portrays a construction of reality where the natural warmth of the sun is overcome by the artificiality. Similarly, the plants and animals in DeMarte’s images would not exist together in nature. In Corn Syrup Summer, a bright pink colored finch sits between roses, peonies, and tropical looking leaves. Covered in sticky, shiny, oozing liquid, the plants are weighed down by the thickness of the syrup.
Corn Syrup Summer, 2015. 24×36” Pigment ink print
The most obviously unnatural element is the addition of brightly-colored confections. Sprinkles, cupcakes, candies, dripping colored icing and caramel dot the scene. This is a world that DeMarte has concocted. The surrealist quality of his scenes gives the images an eerie tone that feels deliberate. DeMarte aims to criticize our standards of beauty and society’s strange rejection and fetishization of nature. He highlights our desire for “improvement” and our never-ending search for perfection.
Candied Cultivation, 2016. 36×24”. © Jason DeMarte
While the subjects and objects in the scene are playful and innocuous on the surface, their presence in this context feels much more sinister. The message behind the images reveals itself in the contrast between the subject and tone of the photographs. Behind the vibrant flowers in full-bloom are stormy skies, ominous clouds and gloomy fog that convey that something bad is near. Despite the positive association of bright colors, flowers and candy, the images are enticing in a somewhat menacing way. By decorating his compositions with confections, DeMarte touches on themes of gluttony and the artificial manipulation of nature. The glossy, Stepford-like perfection of the scenes make the viewer feel uneasy, as if there must be an expense to pay for such indulgence.
Mounting Mint Dew, 2016. Diptych, each panel 48×36” pigment ink print. © Jason DeMarte
DeMarte’s images strike a balance between visual intrigue and thoughtful commentary. The images contain a vivid narrative that entices the viewer to look closely and inspect the somewhat jarring scene. The individual elements are all familiar, but his manipulation make us feel as though we’ve been transported to a dream-world. We question, when have we gone too far, when is enough truly enough? DeMarte’s photographs are a literal visualization of the phrase, “gilding the lily.”
Jason DeMarte’s Confected will be on view at Gallery Kayafas (450 Harrison Avenue #37 ) until December 9th 2017. For more information, visit http://www.gallerykayafas.com/home/exhibitions/current/