Too Utterly Too Too (Sunflowers For Oscar)

Cambridge University, 2023-2024

Three photographic portraits of dried sunflowers explore ideas about the aesthetic beauty of nature, queerness present in the natural world and the importance of being your authentic beautiful self, your own kind of ‘utterly too too’.

In 1882 Irish writer Oscar Wilde toured America to lecture about the arts, decoration and the new Aesthetics Movement, which focused on the visual and sensual qualities of art and design, adapting the sunflower as a symbol of pure beauty.

Wilde enamoured his audiences with his fabulous wit but also shocked them with his unusual dress, physical appearance and effeminate mannerisms. ‘He was so novel, so audacious, so ‘utterly too too’ that he created a sensation wherever he went.’

He and the Movement were subsequently parodied and satirised in US print publications and trade cards. Illustrations show flamboyant Aesthetes interacting with flowers, the illustrations warning of the dangers posed by the Movement, one that would ‘incite women to forget all maternal and motherly duties and would make men effeminate or amoral.’

To my eyes these illustrations made visible a future of potential queerness, of other genders and identities. Drawing inspiration from my research, I made a series of photographic portraits of individual sunflowers I had left to dry at their peak for months, each flower utterly flamboyant. Showing beauty for beauty’s sake, the three photographic portraits are true to the spirit of The Aesthetics Movement, while also expressing ideas about queerness present in the natural world and the importance of being your authentic beautiful self – for each person to be their own kind of ‘utterly too too’. 

Too Utterly Too Too is on display at the Centre for Languages and Inter-Communication at the Institute of Engineering, Cambridge University, UK, until June 2024. 

Too Utterly Too Too is part of wider project exploring queerness, the sunflower and beauty. The cyanotype print ‘Wilted Sunflowers, Bone Dry (To Derek and Vincent)’ is included in the 2022 anthology ‘Responses to Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993)’, published by Pilot Press. The artist’s book ‘All The Sunflowers’ (Negative Press London, 2022) was exhibited at Photofusion, London 2021 and Bower Ashton Library, Bristol in 2022. The canvas collage ‘Some Are Here And Some Are Missing’ was exhibited at Cambridge Artspace 2020 and Photofusion, London, in 2021.

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Roelof Bakker, all rights reserved, 2024