Sunflower Bouquet, 2014
On 17 July 2014 a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with flight number MH17 crashed in the Ukraine, in a sunflower field in a war zone. None of the 298 people on board survived. Camera man Joris Hentenaar and reporter Rudy Bouma were at the crash site for the Dutch current affairs programme ‘Nieuwsuur’ (NOS/NTR). For Bouma and Hentenaar the news story became personal when they realised that they knew some of the victims. They decided to collect flowers from the crash site for the families of those victims. Gradually this gesture grew into something bigger: a permanent memento for the relatives of all victims, a piece of art that connects them to the location of the crash. The victims’ relatives only knew the crash site from news images: the sunflowers, the white tape, the melted aluminium, the debris. Bouma and Hentenaar created the Stichting Zonnebloemenboeket, the Sunflower Bouquet Foundation, and asked artist Bas Meeuws to create a piece of art using sunflowers.
Meeuws specialises in flower still life photography that he composes from photos of individual flowers. Part of his inspiration comes from the floral still lives of the Netherlands’ Golden Age. His work is stunning; it shines on the canvas. Never before has one of his pieces been as emotionally charged as this one: by the assignment, the context and by being confronted with the disaster every day everywhere you looked – in newspapers, the internet and on TV.
‘It was hard to take decisions for this piece,’ Meeuws explains. ‘Which vase to choose, what kind of surface, how to symbolise the event: all the decisions were difficult.’ In the end Meeuws decided on a high, dignified bouquet, with flowing lines and stylised S-shapes. Wilting sunflowers expressed numbing grief and intense sadness. While many of the flowers are facing downwards, Meeuws also uses flowers with unopened buds or in full bloom.
‘I hope that this image portrays human dignity and, despite everything, hope,’ Meeuws says.
The vase in the photograph was specially manufactured by Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum (Royal Tichelaar Makkum), the oldest ceramics company in the Netherlands, and is based on a design by Hella Jongerius. While the clay was still wet, Meeuws scattered soil from the crash site onto its surface, after which the vase was fired. The imprint of the seams of the mould and the upper rim of the vase were not sanded down. The bouquet stands on a sheet of scratched aluminium. A withered sunflower and flower petals, seeds, Ukrainian soil and chunks of stone from the crash site are placed in a circle around the vase. Meeuws chose a midnight blue shade, that is in harmony with the yellow sunflowers.
The flowers in the Sunflower Bouquet all come from the area surrounding the crash site. The sunflowers, ear of corn, camomile, thistles and wild snapdragons also grew in the fields. The roses were taken from the memorial in the garden in front of the Park Inn Hotel in Donetsk, where the local people placed flowers for the victims. The unopened sunflower bud at the top of the bouquet is the same flower as the one in full bloom on the left below the ear of corn and as the withered flower on the aluminium sheet. To the right of the bouquet, Meeuws placed a sunflower in bloom with five buds on the same stem. Normally Meeuws’ art is buzzing with insects, but this time there is only silence.
Untitled (#106) for Emma children’s hospital (Amsterdam), 2014
Photo, dibond, acryl, 130 x 130 cm / 51 3/16 x 51 3/16 inch (editie van 4 + 2 AP).
Tulpenvaas Zwart [‘Black Tulip Vase’]: Pottery, design/ designers De Porceleyne Fles/Royal Delft, manufacture: De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles/Royal Delft, Delft, the Netherlands, 2004. Design form: 1890, for a hand-painted vase in Delft Blue. Collectie Academisch Medisch Centrum, Amsterdam (bequest of Mr. A. Bosma).Table ‘Patch’: Table-top: inlaid coromandel wood, underside: gilded oak, design: Pedro Sousa, manufacture: Boca do Lobo, Portugal, 2008. diametre = 160 cm, h = 76 cm.
Meeuws is an autodidact, and he still works, anno 2014, as a manual therapist. As an expression of his gratitude for his background in healthcare, he has specially made a still-life to donate to auction for the benefit of the Emma Children’s Hospital. Clear references to the Hospital have been incorporated within the work. A tiny portrait of Queen Emma herself can be found in the vase, as well as a portrait of the hospital’s first medical director, Samuel de Ranitz. Meeuws also added a picture of the building on Sarphatistraat, which was, for decades, the Emma Children’s Hospital. Someone perceptive looking at the picture will also be able to see the latter-day logo of the Emma Children’s Hospital in the coromandel wood of the fine table. Meeuws places the delicate, fresh forget-me-not in the centre of the bouquet to represent the children of the Emma. “Somewhat sentimental, perhaps,” says Meeuws, “but it’s important that they remain in our thoughts.”
The square picture has a round composition and a unity of the vase and the nine tulips in various stages of growth, bloom and decline. The fine, flamed, tulip petals harmonise beautifully with the structure of the table’s coromandel wood, and even the snail on the table-top fits into the pattern. The work is executed in deep, intense colours: mauve, warm brown, blue-black, yellow-green and orange. The white, double-headed tulip to the left and the cool, red-white tulip above-centre, add light to the still-life.
Meeuws’s choice of flower clearly refers back to the painted still-lives of the seventeenth century. The red-white tulip above looks like a Rembrandt tulip, a flamed, virus-sick variant which was particularly valued in the Golden Age. The two pointed, botanic tulips regularly had a place in the classic paintings as well. The blue flower to the left behind the white tulip is a convolvulus tricolour, a bloom which wilts after just one day. An opium poppy hangs under the orange-red to the right. The convolvulus tricolour and the papaver respectively symbolised day and night in the seventeenth century. The many small animals in the work add extra texture, colour and life, just as in the works from the Golden Age. The pink of the tulip behind the transparent wings of the scorpion fly can be seen, ants crawl around, a small drama unfolds itself around the house fly and the crab spider on the front of the vase, and behind the yellow-green arch in the bouquet, the yellow-green butterfly finds the ideal lodgings.
It can be clearly seen from the rich, captivating piece how much Meeuws strives for perfection. He has gladly dedicated the flower piece to the Emma Children’s Hospital and to the children who stay there.