“I’ve never fired a gun and doubt I ever will. My Gun Bouquet series aims to challenge easy assumptions about the gun and see in its sculptural and sexual form the potential for beauty and new life. The flowers bursting out of the barrel are colourful and sensual and graceful. They’re an explosion of goodness from somewhere unexpected. I think the contrast between the hard and soft elements enlivens the work – it gives the images a sexual energy that opens up other imaginative potentials. I’ve had many people write me that they are profoundly moved by the optimism in this work. I believe that love, beauty and freedom should be allowed to bloom everywhere.” – Brent Ray Fraser
Of the more than 300 million guns estimated to be in North America, none are found in any design collection and few turn up as subjects of art. With a few notable exceptions, the gun’s lethal function tends to trump its artistic form – or even its cultural force – as any purely aesthetic consideration risks being stalked by visions of death. But the metaphorical value of art – its purpose to be imaginatively suggestive rather crudely practical – is deftly employed by Brent Ray Fraser in his beguiling Gun Bouquet series. The work is a visually powerful explosion of opposites – a duel of dualities – that manages to find beauty (and life) where you least expect it: in the barrel of a gun. And it’s heartening to know that hope can flower in the most unlikely places.
Guns have long played a role in art but they were always a supplemental object rather than the main agent of a scene. Even in Delacroix’s daring Liberty Leading The People set amidst revolutionary France, it’s the flag of freedom that’s held higher than the pistol or musket that made it possible. It isn’t until 1964 when Lichtenstein pointed a gun – held in the firm grip of a Benday-dotted hand – directly at the viewer in Pistol that an automatic weapon became an art star. The image was incendiary but smartly caught the temper of its time after President Kennedy’s assassination. Ironically, Pop art proved deeply fascinated by the gun as an artistic subject. Through his career, Warhol made over 200 works focused on guns – and each went off like a bang among critics.
For his Gun Bouquet series, Brent Ray Fraser metaphorically contrasts the dualities that give life its beautiful friction. The images of the guns and flowers – all originals on canvas – are hand-transfers made with craftsman-like care. Fraser scouts out a variety of well-styled firearms (not easy to do in Canada) and arranges the bouquets like a botanist sculptor when preparing each piece. Once completed, the images are seen by him as suggestive of life’s yin and yang spirit. They ebb and flow between hard and soft, male and female, monotone and colour, pop and still life as well as death and life. They could be symbols of fertility and peace. In the hippie-hopeful 60s “flower power” was an ideal that argued for non-violence and passive resistance. At anti-Vietnam protest marches, happy but determined people put flowers in the barrels of police guns. Hope springs from dark places.
Fraser allows that the work is subject to all sorts of debate – and lots of love. His 2013 solo exhibition of Gun Bouquets in Seattle stirred controversy but also widespread support for the beauty and subversive intelligence of the work. As one commenter said, “let art be art” – a view Fraser happily shares.
© Copyright BARRY DUMKA 2014. All rights reserved.