Gareth McConnell: The Meaning of Flowers, by Neal Brown

‘I was more focused on making political work, whether it be about drug addiction or the situation in Northern Ireland. To take something like flowers and really try and make the subject matter your own is difficult.’

Gareth McConnell, Frieze Week, 2021

Meaning of flowers:

Hibiscus. Rare and delicate beauty
Violet (purple). First love
Foxglove. Insecurity
Fern. Magic, enchantment
Poppy. Imagination, oblivion, eternal sleep

Depictions of flowers in McConnell’s works:

It could be said that, commencing with dead or plastic flowers, McConnell has worked through many hierarchies of floral representation . . .

A poignant, beautiful photograph . . . an ominous, soiled, light switch in an undertaker’s, Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland (1), some kitsch flowers embossed on the wallpaper behind it. A poignant, beautiful photograph . . . a sad and soiled mattress with a machine-stitched flower pattern decoration. A poignant, beautiful photograph . . . a vintage tin of butobarbitone (a lighthearted barbiturate derivative) in front of which are some flower petals, the flowers made from what is probably a cheap, oil based plastic (moulded, extruded, or pressed). The light in the butobarbitone photograph has fallen on the tin and flowers with an improbably patient, calm, gradation of tone. A different kind of poignant, and dissimilarly beautiful photograph . . . poor Mickey Waldorf’s flat – Mickey and some desiccated, real flowers. RIP Mickey and his flowers, gone into finality – a most absolute oblivion

Poppy. Imagination, oblivion, eternal sleep (£10 bag)

McConnell’s lost childhood friends:

Stuart – murdered
George – suicide
Patrick – suicide
Jim – alcoholic death
John – alcoholic death
James – killed by police
Glen – murdered
Winky – alcoholic death
Stephen – suicide

Childrens’s first alphabet:

E is for N-methyl-1-(3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl)propan-2-amine

The effects of McConnell’s first Ecstasy tablet persisted well into the morning. He emerged into the bright, cool, morning light, and walked twelve miles home: New Lodge, Tiger’s Bay, along the Shore Rd, Mount Vernon, Bawnmore, Rathcoole, past the Tech, Jordanstown, Greenisland, all the way to Carrick and up the Woodburn Rd. He listened to the birds sing, and periodically stopped to admire the spring flowers and wonder at their intricacy and abundance. A profound sense of joy pervaded his spirit. On arriving home he decided that, from this moment, his life would now be given to the repetitive beats of the new music, and the idea he would sleep only when dead. He put his collection of rock and indie vinyl carefully under the bed

Flowers and flower colours: God’s colours. Honour thy mother and father. Take pleasure in the deep petal beauty of the rose and the the similarly wondrous, roseate floridity of the alcohol-dependent noses of the fathers – breathing like beasts, asleep on their sofas. Note: the sofas not necessarily compliant with The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations Act 1988 (amended 1989, and 1993) in respect of resistance to cigarette ignition. Flowers as identifier codes of sectarian loyalties. Mothers: make a nice flower arrangement for your home: white lily (republican), orange lily (loyalist), shamrock (Ireland), and opium poppy (addicts). Fine Liberty print shirts with dried blood and crusted mucous on them – intravenous drug use is also good for the home mood effect. Honour the haemorrhage colours – the pretty flower colours of illness and fatality. Note: the movement of blood from the vein up into a syringe during injection is what addicts call ‘drawback’ – the blood creates shapes within the drug liquid in the syringe that are known as ‘flowers’ and which may be conducive to certain kinds of contemplative pleasure

The syringe as a giant illuminated lava lamp in a warm, dark room – the flower rises, and the flower falls

Natural form, contours, leafage. Flowers on trees. Blossom. McConnell’s night flowers – fabulous and magnificent. (Urban flowers as an epitome of the mood of the nocturnal city – read City of Dreadful Night, James Thomson, 1874, if you cannot sleep). Trees and their flowers revealed by the police under the light of their police torches, police car headlights, and police helicopter searchlights. Wake up 4.00 am, aggressively noisy helicopter above, somewhere near, don’t feel good, can’t find light switch, need a piss, don’t want to wake sleeping partner, use phone screen light only, not the torch function, see illumination of McConnell’s framed night flowers print and its shadow – a mood altering choreography, crawling itself across the wall and up to the ceiling

Psychedelic: Psyche was a very attractive goddess in Greek mythology – started off as a mortal, well known to be wild, ended up in rehab, shagged a not so nice man, aristo, also a newcomer, both got thrown out, got tattoos of each other’s name on their arms, split up, got back together again. Psyche got clean in the end . . . became a goddess, takes a meeting in Shepherd’s Bush

Flower tattoos, total prison muscularity, Jean Genet, spunk everywhere

Dutch still life flower paintings. Paint flowers for money. Van Gogh. Poverty. Romance, suicide, blood . . .

McConnell’s photograph of his partner Crista, breastfeeding their tiny new born child, Sorcha, in a hospital bed. Crista in a stately exhaustion, her eyes shut. A very large, very symmetrical, flower tattoo on her shoulder

McConnell’s The Dream Meadow . . . forms of prayer, church flowers, the church of flowers, the flowering church, the flower of youth

McConnell’s Frieze Week flowers – ecstasies of trippy-beauty – effervescence and fluorescence. Post-contagion-hedonism-colours. McConnell’s Frieze posters/down in the dark, in the tube – sugar-high intoxication colours, growing out of the fertile, warm dark dust of London’s tube platforms. McConnell’s specialist horticultural knowledge makes his flowers retinally absolute – pure, Class A, medicinal grade. Flash. Flash. Flash. Separation and disjunction. The retina’s relationship of service to the brain becomes a little less servile – render unto brain seizure that which is brain seizure’s . . .

McConnell’s flowers. Coloured shadows. Slippage. De-registration. Screaming colour. Narcissistic, posturing, pop star tight-balls-trousers colours. Synaesthesia colours and intimate human perfumes. Vertiginous planes of colour as seen by the industrious bee on his or her daily commute to the flower workplace. The engorged take-me-to-bed-and-fuck-me flower colours of sex. An explosion of petals in a Northern Ireland flower stall, many people brought to violent orgasm

Pleasure. Total. The floral. McConnell your florist

McConnell photographs his daughter Sorcha holding up his newly made flower prints, fresh off the printer. Large prints, super-intense, rich colours. Sorcha’s face cropped off by the top of the prints she holds. Only her hands and feet are visible. She wears protective gloves, so as to keep the super-desirable art object pristine. McConnell photographs his daughter doing this over, and over, again – a long series. Hello Sorcha! Bless all the children

Psychedelia. Flower power. Power sharing. Kaleidoscopic. LSD-ish packet of dangerously over coloured sweets, one ridiculously labelled as rose flavour, pig gelatine, from the corner shop. David Attenborough – impeccable, natural world time lapse photography, flower growth. Time lapse of Attenborough getting older and the planet getting worse – a suspicion, based on Attenborough’s incongruent arm waving, a requirement for youth audiences, that it might all be his fault somehow. Millions of years of old National Geographic magazines and their macro flower photography, their colossal weight creating a new sedimentary rock layer. Amateur photography: ten hundred billion trillion photographs of flowers in parks and gardens, including McConnell’s grandparents, when he was growing up. Kodachrome


Paramilitaries are a kind of Northern Irish indigenous shaman, with magico-religious belief systems and powerful automatic weaponry. Paramilitaries practice as intermediaries between the human and the spirit worlds. They radically expand consciousness by issuing punishment shootings and beatings for anti-social behaviour, including for children and teenagers, and by administering powerful drugs to their communities, including the Class A ‘flower power’ drugs LSD, DMT, psilocybin, and MDMA. In a profound paradox of spiritual learning, devotees may simultaneously buy drugs, and be shot for taking them. McConnell was a regular at Kelly’s – a ‘full spectrum of paramilitaries: UVF, UDA, IRA, INLA’, and ‘everyone completely wasted’. A united Ireland. The manager would occasionally receive funeral wreaths, sent by paramilitaries as a warning for hosting such devilry. Thus do the paramilitaries serve their communities; by dispensing drugs and spells, communicating with spirits, shooting adults and children, shooting each other, and helpfully escorting the dead to the afterlife


  1. a) The seed-bearing part of a plant, consisting of reproductive organs (stamens and carpels) that are typically surrounded by a brightly coloured corolla (petals) and a green calyx (sepals)
  1. b) The finest individuals out of a number of people or things

The finest individual stood, swaying, on lager and a nice bit of toilet-cistern flavoured Charlie, in the centre of the vibrant crowd of young people. A male. His masculinity proved by his seed bearing, reproductive organs, somewhat apparent beneath the premium viscose and cotton mix of the groin area of his trousers. Floral pattern on shirt. You used to get beaten up, in the old days, for being a homosexual, if you wore a floral shirt like that. These finest individuals are typically surrounded by other brightly coloured finest individuals. Fight each other later. Girlfriends drag them off each other

Mental Beauty and Poverty and The Silence of Flowers . . .

Arborvitae: unchanging friendship, Aster: symbol of love, daintiness. Bachelor’s Button: single blessedness. Basil: good wishes. Bay tree: glory: Begonia: beware. Belladonna: silence. Bittersweet: truth. Black-eyed Susan: justice. Bluebell: humility. Borage: bluntness, directness. Butterfly weed: let me go. Chrysanthemum, red: I love you. Chrysanthemum, yellow: slighted love. Chrysanthemum, white: truth. Clematis: mental beauty. Clematis, evergreen: poverty

The Meaning of Flowers:

Sean Grahams

Weeping families in black – not psychedelia
Flowers in and on hearse vehicles
Linked arms
Carrying coffins with flowers
Crowds – holding flowers
TV cameras – filming the flowers
Police – standing beside the flowers
Enemies can see the beauty of each other’s flowers
Flower wreaths – mums, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, colleagues, local tradespeople, neighbours

(1) This photograph of McConnell’s was taken in 1998, the year of the Good Friday Agreement.