Bushes & Succulents, by Mona Kuhn
Los Angeles-based artist Mona Kuhn is best known for her large-scale photographs of the human form. Her approach is unusual in that she develops close relationships with her subjects, resulting in images of remarkable intimacy, and creating the effect of people naked but comfortable in their own skin. In addition, Kuhn’s playful combination of visual strategies, such as translucency explores our connectedness with the environment. A sense of comfort and intelligence permeates her works, showing the human body in its most natural state while simultaneously re-envisioning the nude as a contemporary canon of art.
Her new series “Bushes & Succulents”, on view at EUQINOM Gallery in San Francisco, coincides with the Women’s History Month in March and is inspired by the female artists that came before her. Kuhn creates closely framed figure studies of the female form alongside succulent plants depicted in alluring color. The exhibition includes a site-specific installation in collaboration with composer Boris Salchow.
The premise for Bushes & Succulents acknowledges the significant, often marginalized, contribution women have made in the arts historically. For decades, female artists looked to nature for inspiration, using botanics as metaphors for life, origin and the female form. Kuhn creates her own botanical images of succulent plants, photographed at the Botanical Gardens at Huntington Library in Los Angeles, in evocative colors. She chose succulents specifically for their ability to endure harsh environments, feeling that endurance was a quality definitive of women’s experience as well. Playful as the title may be, the project addresses nuanced topics of objectivity, women’s bodies and feminism in Kuhn’s unique artistic voice.
Accompanying the succulents are solarized photographs of women’s torsos focused on, as Kuhn states, “the place of our origin”. The models collaborated closely with Kuhn throughout the project, allowing for myriad images both classic and uninhibited. The images are made using an analog solarization process in recognition of artist Lee Miller, who discovered the process in the 1929 (made famous by fellow artist Man Ray). The solarized prints highlight the natural lines of the female form, while nearly abstracting them, a reaction on the skin that ranges from metallic, to brilliance, to aged stone. The solarization gives them a statue-like presence and reveals imperfections, veins, and a nearly translucent view of the figures. All of the images are printed on metallic chromogenic paper and is included in the first room of the gallery space.
A site-specific installation by Kuhn is displayed in the back gallery, featuring additional images from “Bushes & Succulents”, printed on translucent vellum and applied directly to the walls. Visitors encounter a sound piece created in collaboration with composer Boris Salchow, featuring the voice of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks reading her 1959 poem “We Real Cool”. The piece is layered with bass tones in reference to the jazz era Brooks invokes. Kuhn includes the poem in the accompanying publication “Bushes & Succulents”, published by Stanley Barker in 2018.