Review by Ian Keogh
The set up of Rachael Smith’s comedy drama is encapsulated by the sample page. Siobhan’s life of indolence in London is paid for by her parents, whom she feeds stories of her success forging a career as a painter. The reality is somewhat different. She’s dissolute, shambolic and while personable and possibly talented, she isn’t equipped with the bullshit skills required to impress the hollow vessels who can place her work in front of people who might buy it. Something needs to change. She hadn’t anticipated this change being her parents foisting her pyromaniac younger brother on her. “Do you have gas or electric?” Chris casually enquires on arrival.
It’s characteristic of the excellent comedy timing Smith employs throughout in what’s in effect a decently plotted thirty minute sitcom in graphic novel form. Deflating the pretensions of the art world is hardly a new concept (is it possible wish fulfilment?), and neither is much else about Artificial Flowers, but it’s far from a creatively redundant process as the familiar is retrodden with verve and elegance. We know that the oil and water of Chris’ antisocial tendencies and Siobhan’s desperation to impress will eventually coalesce, and there’s comfort in that as we invest in the characters, but it’s the wealth of lovely little touches that elevate Artificial Flowers. Siobhan’s eventual exhibition is insouciantly titled ‘Mother of Beauty’.
Smith’s cartooning strikes the right tone between mugging for the camera and lack of engagement, and builds the cast as much visually as verbally, amid some clever touches. These are people, for the most part, you like very quickly. Contrasting the vibrancy of the pages to match Siobhan’s levels of personal fulfilment is engaging, as are the assorted pieces of art in the places she visits.
This isn’t perfection. In sitcom style, some personalities change too quickly because the plot requires a comedy transformation. Although endearing, Chris seems very much modelled on Errol from Uncle, and while it never undermines the story, sometimes an overly-sentimental streak strays close. Balanced against that is the sharp observation, the impressively instinctive pacing and the general good-natured charm. More, please.