Imperfection is Perfection

Emma Bass is an artist based in Auckland, New Zealand. Her current series, called Imperfect, muses on the temporality of life. Emma collects plants locally, from friends gardens and roadsides, and places them in vintage vases collected obsessively over many years.

She photographs the works in her home, in natural light. The images are achingly beautiful, subtly hinting at the beauty found within decay. For Emma, the series is all about celebrating the beauty in imperfection and acknowledging the inevitable passing of life.

I would write more about this series but I have just read writer David Lyndon Brown’s review of Emma’s work on her website and my words pale in comparison. This is what he said:

‘Historically, when we encounter flowers in an art setting the response is highly prescribed. How beautiful, we sigh. It is as though we are primed for beauty and our reaction is virtually automatic. Bass has subverted that tradition. For all intents and purposes these artfully lit, poised, formal, floral compositions are exactly that – but look closer – the flowers here are starting to wilt, discolour, petals are withering, dropping, leaves are curling at the edges – these bouquets are infected with mortality.

We need to do a double take, to re-evaluate. Despite a preconception of beauty, we are suddenly confronted with temporality, imperfection and, yes, death. And don’t forget, flowers are the sexual organs of plants. When we look at a floral still-life we are in fact looking at a flagrant exhibition of genitalia. This consideration makes the thought of degeneration all the more poignant. 

In an era of glossy finishes, air-brushing and Photoshop the least imperfection is considered scandalous. Fruit, vegetables and flowers are expected to be immaculate, taste or perfume notwithstanding. But surely the beauty of these living objects lies in their transience – the fact that they will fade adds to their attractiveness.

As Leonard Cohen sings in Anthem: ‘There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’; as Persian weavers wove in flaws because it would be arrogant for mortals to aspire to perfection; so Emma Bass, by deftly subverting an ancient tradition, reminds us that we are human. 

David Lyndon Brown, April 2012

Talk to Emma:


'Hydrangeas With Bird, 8:35am'. Image by Emma Bass
'Grasses and Queen Annes Lace, 10:17am'. Image by Emma Bass
'Mother-In-Laws Tongue, Succulent and Maiden Hair Fern, 4:22pm'. Image by Emma Bass
'Scotch Thistle 4.02pm'. Image by Emma Bass
'White Wisteria, 8:44pm'. Image by Emma Bass
'Red Hot Pokers, Berries, Rose Hips and Twigs, 5.20 pm'. Image by Emma Bass
'Wisteria, Cherry Blossom, Magnolia and Dandelion, 3.29 pm'. Image by Emma Bass
'Poppies, 6.56 pm'. Image by Emma Bass
'Hydrangea, 9.23 am'. Image by Emma Bass
'Ginkgo, 2.18 pm'. Image by Emma Bass