Critics’ Picks

Manu Torres, untitled, 2018, digital pigment print, 15 x 12".

Manu Torres, untitled, 2018, digital pigment print, 15 x 12".

Portland

Manu Torres

Russo Lee Gallery
805 NW 21st Avenue
January 3–March 2, 2019

Manu Torres’s photographs capture his strange, sculptural flower arrangements at precise moments between efflorescence and decay. Akin to still-life paintings by Dutch artist Ambrosius Bosschaert or French artist Henri Fantin-Latour, the works speak to the vulnerability of beauty and the consumption of nature.

In one of the untitled photographs from 2018, orchids, roses, and a lone delphinium arc theatrically over purple hydrangeas, bending toward the cracked marble pedestal on which their vase stands. Fallen rose petals rest on the stone alongside peels from a mandarin orange that sits on the edge of the urn’s Ionic base. What surprises the eye and ignites a sensory frisson is the array of lilac-colored feathers tucked into the bouquet. In historical still-life paintings, feathers are usually part of a dead fowl or two, signaling both sacrifice and prosperity. Here, the individual plumes are merely symbolic, mingling intimately with the blossoms in an interspecies folly. In other photographs, ribbons fall across flower stems and branches while swaths of brushy vegetation and vibrant paper fronds are interspersed with traditional organic greenery.

Though some pictures use dark contrasting backgrounds, which thrust the flowers forward, the more compelling works are those that fully expose their staging apparatus—the pedestal against the drab gray walls of what might be Torres’s studio. Almost candid, these works elicit imaginings of sculptures in progress, with a blossom removed once its color has changed or an orchid added only after it has sufficiently wilted. In Romantik, 2018, Torres embraces the tension between sculpture, painting, and photography: The only tapestry and the only titled work in the show, this jacquard abstraction of his floral imagery appears to render a blurred photograph of a vase of roses with a tactile weave of muted pinks.