Cig Harvey’s ‘The Lady of Shallot’

‘Yesterday I brought five flame orange roses and this morning I wept on my knees before them. The petals crowd like skin around a wound and the colour pulses, in and out, like a ventilator. I lay on the kitchen counter and hooked myself up to the roses and felt the intravenous colour warm though my veins. On this life support I can breathe.’

During lockdown, Cig Harvey woke at four thirty each morning to write. Words and images combine and coalesce in her practice, each aspect informing and enlivening the other. Her conceptually based practice uses photography and language combined to discuss the senses and to investigate what it is to be human.

Harvey brought flowers into her home and her studio in Maine, forcing Spring time inside, helping her move through quarantine with optimism. The focus of her writing was her upcoming publication, Blue Violet, which journeys seamlessly through a number of genres. Part botanical guide, historical encyclopaedia, cookbook and poetry collection, it is flowers and plants that are the thread that tie the book together.

The Lady of Shalott (English Rose Variety) depicts a rose emerging from deep shadow, its geometry and colour emphasised by stark lighting. The work continues Harvey’s rigorous formal investigation of colour, a concern that has remained a constant throughout her oeuvre. In The Lady of Shalott Harvey plays with the contrast between the delicate pinks of the fallen petals, and the dramatically lit petals still attached to the flower head, which glow in a rich and deep cerise. The range and clarity of tone is intensified by the creeping darkness that threatens to engulf the colour at any moment.

The piece is not only an exploration of chromatic and textural richness but also registers Harvey’s ongoing search for the continued possibility of both curiosity and joy in the world that surrounds us, even in times of uncertainty and upheaval.

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