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During the Vietnam War, a photo was snapped of a young blonde placing a carnation into the barrel of a soldier’s rifle. Flower power, a movement of hippie dissent, assumed passive beauty was enough to counteract violence.
The ground floor at Charlie James Gallery is nothing but paintings of flowers by Tucker Nichols—flat, colorful compositions of bouquets, all mid-bloom and graphic. They’re symbolic of California as a land of abundance; a homage to the state’s generous flora, and its liberal politics. Temperate climate and lush vegetation distract while the world is burning.
Made with leftover house paint and a keen deployment of color theory, the majority of paintings are serene and precise. Untitled (BR1714) (all works 2017) features a tall, neat spray of thin green leaves speckled with buttery yellow florets. Other works are cute and decorative, typified by Untitled (BR1701) pussywillows in a hot pink vase over a Tiffany-blue background.
While pretty, the series is ambivalent. Nichols says they are the “angriest protest paintings” he’s ever made. Some of the works, where chaos is evident, inch closer to feeling like protest; Untitled (BR1719) is ambrosia-colored and lopsided, as if arranged by a distracted florist. Asymmetry makes more sense when measuring frustration.
At the Chinatown gallery, a bouquet of fan flowers are dying in the window, dusting the plinth with purple petals; a bouquet can be a sign of celebration or a remedial gesture of care in the face of trauma. Painting flowers as an expression of protest, Nichols admits, seems ultimately futile. But at least they brighten the room.
Tucker Nichols: Flowerland runs from May 20 – July 8, 2017 at Charlie James Gallery (969 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, CA 90012).