PHOTOS: Ruckus
︎ Moremen Gallery, Louisville

Semper Augustus

Moremen Gallery’s new space overlooks downtown Louisville from the second story of 710 West Main Street. Converted from offices, the galleries meander from the front to the back of the building, with glass partitions providing glimpses of what lies ahead. In the gallery’s second exhibition, Semper Augustus, Tiffany Calvert’s paintings astound the severely neutral space with brilliant color and floral motifs. Opposite the entrance to the gallery is a series of paintings on stretched digital prints, one of which is hung over a floor-to-ceiling swatch of floral wallpaper. The compositions of these images are recognizable from a distance as floral arrangements in the style of Dutch and Flemish still life painting. At a closer proximity, the viewer can see that the underlying digital prints are partially distorted with heavy saturation and pixelation, though fragments of detailed flowers and leaves remain intact. On top of the digital prints, Calvert has applied paint in precise squares and streaks of impasto, blurring the underlying image like pixels. Tulips and peonies appear in various stages of detail. The paintings continuously shift from imperfect renderings to complex abstractions of non-objects.

The artist statement describes the laborious detail of original Dutch and Flemish paintings as confusing and overwhelming. Calvert further complicates these images until her paintings become “unseeable.” By applying levels of distortion, she simplifies forms but deteriorates any description of a real or natural object. These layered processes, such as digital reproduction and pixelated glitches, only came into existence hundreds of years after the original images were created. One can imagine the paintings transported through time as in a science fiction novel, becoming digitally unraveled in the process.

The repetition in Calvert’s paintings mimics scientific study. Situated next to each other, Untitled #315 (2018) and Untitled #317 (2018) utilize the same floral still life as an underlying image. The paintings are not immediately discernible as twins—they vary in the levels of saturation, digital manipulation, and the unique mark making atop each print. The pair act as two dissections of the same image, revealing different facets. Untitled #315 is hung on the floral wallpaper, separating it from the other works in the gallery like an experiment next to a control group. Calvert weighs the romanticism of the floral patterns against the methodology and exactitude of her practice.

As one continues through the gallery, the artworks become more abstracted. In Untitled #272 (2016), Calvert has created what is ostensibly a non-objective painting. On plain canvas (as opposed to a digital print), this smaller work could be considered an abstract expressionist painting in hues of dark blue and green, with accents of white and red. In the context of the artist’s other works, however, the composition of this painting reads as a floral arrangement against a dark background, stems and petals almost visible despite the lack of clear signifiers. In a side gallery, Untitled #307 (2018) resumes the floral motif in a different format: against a flat, neutral gray plane, painterly segments of petals, stems and leaves appear suspended, making up a fragmented version of the formulaic composition the viewer has seen repeated many times in Calvert’s body of work.

The exhibition is named for a prized variety of Dutch tulip which often appears in still life paintings of the 17th century. Calvert notes that “Semper Augustus are in many floral still life paintings from the time but were so rare that many painters may never have seen one in person.” Paintings of this era better represent exorbitance than the likeness of flowers. They do so with a level of precision and detail which makes it harder to view the image naturally, effectively abstracting the painting. Calvert distorts her paintings with glitches, impasto, or spray paint to reveal more effectively the construction of the images and their inherent artifice. In a 1972 interview, Gerhard Richter stated, “What we call blurred is imprecision, that is to say something quite different if one compares it with the real object presented. But since paintings are not painted in order to be compared with reality, they cannot be blurred, nor imprecise, nor different from (different from what?). How could paint on canvas be blurred?” Calvert’s work and its contention with naturalism acts as commentary on the practice of painting itself.

For artists working in the age of computerization and internet communication, it is easy to fetishize technology. Calvert’s work is adeptly contemporary in the way it uses both digital and traditional forms to transverse history without tired nostalgia. What may be most significant about our current moment is not the dawn of the digital era, but the way in which contemporary artworks may be some of the last to relate directly to nature—that is, to demonstrate familiarity with livable climates, variety in plant and animal species, and availability of food, all of which are declining irreversibly in the late stages of capitalism. With sophisticated irony, Calvert’s paintings point back to a time of exploration and curiosity driven by greed and conquest, which undeniably led to our current state.


Semper Augustus is on display at Moremen Gallery until November 16, 2018.

Moremen Gallery is located at 710 W Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202 and is open from 12-4p Monday - Saturday and by appointment.


Mary Clore, Contributor to Ruckus

Untitled #317 (2018), courtesy of the artist

Untitled #272 (2016), courtesy of the artist

Untitled #307 (2018), coutesy of Moremen Gallery


RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY