just some nice things like frogs and flowers and sunsets and insects nothing more

just some nice things like frogs and flowers and sunsets and insects nothing more

6th October - 29th October 2022



In his wonderful essay “The Language of Flowers” George Bataille, following his surrealist philosophy he called a “general economy”, plots the full spectrum of thought that is evoked by flowers. He states at the outset that, “in fact love can be posited

from the outset as the natural function of the flower.” Already here is the strict conflation of humanity and nature that leads into what we now call the anthropocene. But the flower for Bataille is also indecently rotting flowers, the perversions of fat orchids and the beautiful roses in Marquis de Sades cell.

It seems to me that Jason Phu’s exhibition has this audacious scope: from death and love, the visceral and the erotic, from the beautiful to the decaying. Phu shows that life is made up of all these things. So the humble title just some nice things like frogs and flowers and insects and nothing more is a little bit of a misnomer.

No doubt the work presents as a joyous celebration of spring. There is almost the feeling of an immediate response to the buds of spring and even the rains we have been having in Sydney. The paintings are like a melting rainbow paddle pop in the sun oozing rainbow goodness. Phu paints sensuously and quickly. The gestures sit high on the pictures surface. It is as if his reaction to the flowers and to feelings are expressed in real time and the paintings give us a direct and therefore seductive access to the process of their making. Of course in this Phu has drawn from a wide variety of painterly sources from Chinese scrolls to Disney, from surrealism to contemporary work like Carol Dunham.

The beautiful colours of the flower (pink, rose madder, and more artificial yellows and blues) stain the canvases like a hermit scholar-poet’s calligraphic scroll might do to ring in the season. The Romantic poets and druids, the Chinese scholar and the surrealist have all been obsessed by spring. Phu admitted that even painting in his fellow journeyman Laura Jones’s studio, an expert on floral painting in its all its diversity, inspired his turn towards beauty.

However it is clear that Phu wants us to also see the absurdity in nature and love and in our Romantic notions. Phu, having gifted us the language and symbolism of flowers and animals, turns his charm and wit to other ends. He is a real painter comedian in these works and I laughed out loud when I first saw them. The miracle of laughter is that it creates an immediate bond with the viewer/audience while at the same time allowing the comedian to inject more. His work is silly to be sure but not the less profound for it.

The butterflies threaten to kill for their passionate love as their love turn murderous. A painting of a jealous fish watching two lover fish kissing has the melancholic structure of one of Edvard Munch’s best voyeurs. The pile of stinking rotting rat corpses in the sun, on top of a bed of beautiful petals, conjures the sweat and primal forces of sex/death. It is all skin against skin with the heat of bodies.

For Phu these joyous mediations on nature are set in the reality of contemporary life. At present our anxieties veer between nuclear apocalypse and climate change induced extinction. Phu finds acid rain that blends colours beautifully like an artist. Like a prepper envisaging the future, Phu presents us with a world where nature returns in all its glory. Perfumed flowers, with pretty corolla, also point to the rotting future.


Oliver Watts, 2022