Petals on a pedestal

Apoppy's golden center nestles in sensuous layers of creamy red-orange petals, as ruffled and feminine as a crinoline petticoat. . . . A fusion of blue-dyed chrysanthemums and red dahlias merge into rainbow cascades of nail polish.

Christopher Beane's voluptuous photographs give the blooms in his lens a hyper-reality, chronicling beauty and decay or tearing and joining petals and stems in constructs he labels "sci-fi" or "fictitious" flowers. His color works, appreciative of his subjects but not sentimental, have drawn comparisons to the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Georgia O'Keefe, and they're "so large and have such potent hues that they directly challenge the primacy of painting as art," states art historian Anthony F. Janson in his preface to Beane's book, "Flower" (Artisan), which features 150 black-and-white and color photographs by the artist.

By phone from his North Carolina home, Janson said that his first reaction to Beane's photographs was an astounded expletive. "I have never seen a flower photographer like this in my life," he said.

Beane's intense relationship with things botanical began in New York's wholesale flower marts, where he took a day job after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. He began bringing floral offerings back to his studio. "I would photograph them, observing their transformation. Half dead they were just as beautiful as they were fresh out of the box," Beane said by phone from New York.

Sensual juxtapositions of petals in an early "Orgy" series led to "Camouflage" constructs. A "moody, dark" period gave way to post-9/11, psychedelic "Tutti Frutti" compositions set against a glossy background of multicolored Murano glass.

"It was, 'OK, so I've conquered the beautiful flower in a photograph. Now take it somewhere else,' " Beane said. "That's what fascinated me: an infinite amount of possibilities to create compositionally within the 4-by-5 frame of my camera."

In 2005, at age 38, Beane was treated for Stage 4 lymphoma and was unable to use his camera again until 2007. Among his new works: a "Tutti Frutti" evolution -- "color theory on acid," he says.


-- Lynne Heffley

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