5 Fast Facts: Sharon Core

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Sharon Core, whose work is currently on view at NMWA in the collection galleries and in Super Natural.

Sharon Core (b. 1965)

Sharon Core, Single Rose, 1997; Chromogenic color print; 14 x 13 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sharon Core, Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth

Sharon Core, Single Rose, 1997; Chromogenic color print; 14 x 13 inches; NMWA, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sharon Core, Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth

1. Mystery Meat
Two photographs on view in Super Natural, Single Rose and Bouquet, incorporate flower petals made from meat—purportedly from pig ears.

2. Painterly Beginnings
Core studied painting at the University of Georgia and later earned an MFA in photography at Yale. Her works are inspired by or directly based on realistic paintings—such as those by 19th-century painter Raphaelle Peale.

3. Presidential Produce
By growing heirloom vegetables and flowers, Core says, “I see the garden as an extension of my studio.” In her series imitating still-lifes by Peale, Core obtained many plants from Monticello. Thomas Jefferson kept meticulous records of his garden crops and was a friend of Peale’s family.

4. A Piece of Cake?
Core also reimagined works by Wayne Thiebaud, involving baking, decorating, and arranging more than 200 brightly colored cakes and foods. Food styling was not a new skill for Core, who has also worked on shoots for a German food company, HoneyBaked Ham catalogues, and Martha Stewart Living.

5. Nature Morte
Carefully staging photographic still-lifes with home-grown flowers is not a common practice. Core says, “The paintings on which [my works] are modeled were painstakingly painted to appear as real as possible, so I go to great pains to come at the image from another direction—to mirror it.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Flowers, Fruit, and Fatality

“What is natural?” is the intriguing question surrounding Super Natural. Two of the exhibition’s artists, Rachel Ruysch and Sam Taylor-Johnson, answer this query through their respective works of art. Ruysch’s painted still life and Taylor-Johnson’s video Still Life suggest that decay, death, and the passage of time are the most essential and inevitable processes in our natural environment.

Society has traditionally aligned women with nature because both can be pretty, graceful, and demure. Many of the women artists in Super Natural, including 17th-century artist Rachel Ruysch, challenge these characterizations.

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1680s; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1680s; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Ruysch and later artists chose to infuse their art with the scientific, strange, and abject elements of nature.

Ruysch’s Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge seems to depict a thriving bouquet of flowers. However, upon closer examination the arrangement contains fatal signs of decay.

The composition’s central pink rose wilts, showing the beginning stages of decomposition. Deep purple flowers, half-hidden at the rear of the bouquet, also droop. Their shadowy hue and sagging posture foreshadow the bleak future in store for their upright counterparts. Holes in the bouquet’s large green leaves also suggest impending deterioration. These subtle elements of decay allude to the passage of time and the subsequent demise of the plants.

Even the still life’s title reminds viewers that these natural organisms will not last forever. The bouquet stands in an urn, which sits upon a stone ledge—neither setting encourages growth or life.

While Ruysch’s painting subtly alludes to decomposition, Taylor-Johnson’s video shines a spotlight on the process. In her video, a plate of fruit disintegrates over several weeks. The time-lapse video compresses the breakdown to just over three minutes. As the decay progresses, the fruits seem to sigh and exhale their final breaths slowly, collapsing into an unrecognizable pile of rot.

Like Ruysch, Taylor-Johnson does not shy away from the foul qualities of natural decay. Unlike Ruysch, Taylor-Johnson has access to modern resources and technology that allow her to depict decomposition over an extended period of time.

Even without Taylor-Johnson’s technology, Ruysch does a masterful job of alluding to the unavoidable fate of her flowers. Both artists imbue their portraits of nature with the most natural life process of all: death. These works, as well as the other Super Natural works by Audrey Niffenegger, Janaina Tschäpe, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Maggie Foskett give “death” as the simple yet poignant answer to “What is natural?”

—Christy Slobogin is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Learn more about Super Natural, on view through September 13, 2015.