I put all the flower bouquets into simple settings at the time. Now I put them into complicated settings, with lots of color and patterned cloths. But I like these simpler works, and I did do something like this one when I was painting flowers with pastel last autumn.
The one on the right was painted sometime in the early 1990s, while the one on the left was painted last autumn. They are not so far apart in design — though they are decades apart in years. Thus it goes to show that my youthful self is still residing inside my head. That’s how I’m interpreting the similarity — that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Obviously I am young at heart. Here is the proof.
For some reason I posed these flowers on a round table. The blue cloth seems to have been the only still life cloth I owned! Here it is again. But I like it. I must also have liked it a lot then to have used it so frequently. It reminds me of the blue of the sky.
This time the profusion of flowers was crazy. I was again worried about being able to paint all of them, but evidently I managed. And I also found a way of becoming mesmerized by the visual activity of the glass’s interior where the stems bunch together.
This was my favorite of the still lifes I painted in that era, and it’s still the favorite I suppose.
Now the blue cloth has an ochre colored, hand thrown, North Carolina pottery vase sitting on its pale, cheerful color against a white wall and the bouquet has grown enormous. Daisies, carnations, chrysanthemums and lilacs are all massed together. And the green leaves of the lilac provide a leafy accent to the big assembly of flowers.
I recall that when I began doing the large bouquets, like this one, my chief concern was how I would ever paint so many flowers in the short time allotted for alla prima painting. It was no use trying to paint them the next day because they all shifted and fidgeted as the hours passed.
But somehow I seemed to have gotten them all into the picture. Let me tell you, though, the pressure was on ….
I painted the flowers in simple patterns, graphic in character — really more a way of drawing with color than of painting. But the jar (actually a drinking glass) packed tightly with the flower’s stems attracted much of my attention. I was consciously emulating the late flower paintings of Edouard Manet, one of which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and which I knew well. I was aware of his other late flower paintings from books.
The white iris, however, that is still Van Gogh’s teaching. My teachers were the Impressionist painters and Van Gogh.
They were good teachers.
The bouquets gradually became more varied. I was buying more flowers, different kinds of flowers. Lilacs were still blooming out in the yard so those got added to the store bought flowers. The blue cloth is still there, but now it creates a lower horizon, and a yellow background lies behind most of the picture.
I switched from the jade colored vase to clear glass. It looks like a jar. I have often favored simple jars for holding flowers. I like the way the stems look through the glass. It would be a theme of some of the subsequent pictures, the ones that come after this one.
I’m not posting the bouquets in order, though. After so many years I have no recollection of the order in which I painted them. I only know that the busier ones came later in the sequence.
I was already someone who sought to find the motif through several variations of a subject. Another bouquet is accompanied by four lemons. (Other pictures had two lemons.) The yellow lemons offer a visual foil to the violet lilacs.
This bouquet has other flowers besides lilacs — chrysanthemums (symbolic of long life) with also a single carnation, and possibly also a tea rose. The whole bouquet sits once again on the pale blue cloth now in front of the white wall.
I was learning from looking at Van Gogh’s paintings so the blue cloth has swirls of brushstrokes in waves creating shadows. All the forms are delineated, as in a drawing that has been colored.
The blossoms are heavier than in the other painting of the same theme, and they are more abundant. This horizontal spreading out of the flowers was something I loved — which I still love — and it reminds me of the shape of a tree. In this case the lilacs are also a little bit tree-like in the expressive, transparent shadow they cast. Once again, there are two lemons.
The color of the background wall was kind of a big deal in my family when I was growing up. I can’t recall the color name. But we liked it as an interior wall color. It was almost our official living room color. By the time this picture was painted my parents had moved to another state where they retired. I stayed behind. And the walls of the living room were still covered with the official hue.
The light is interior light. You might notice that it’s warm on the top of the leaves. Nevertheless, the shadows are transparent. Outdoor light might have been coming into the room too. I painted this so long ago that I don’t remember.
There were several bouquets that I set up on the same pale blue cloth. Lemons form a counterpoint in them, their yellow providing chromatic opposition to the violet of the lilacs. I remember that I liked describing the forms of the lemons with strong outlines. With these I was particularly pleased because they look solid.
You can see some of the warmth of the interior light in the blue cloth too. A yellowish cast reflects off the blue in places.
I felt like these flowers have almost a personality. They seem cheerful. Plural. Definitely an ensemble of happy lilacs. The same bush that produced these lilacs finished blooming only a day or so ago. So many years later!
Sometime or other in the early 1990s I made a group of flower paintings. Each was painted in one session. Lemons of varying quantity offered a counterpoint to the violet of the lilacs. This one has a bouquet sitting on the white enamel top of the stove. To the right the burners are visible with black grill patterns.
The colors of the pictures are so different from the way I use color now, and yet looking back at them, I can see how they created a path to my present.
Some of the organization seems almost Oriental to me in the angular simplicity, the outlined forms, in perspective that tips forward, and in the overt use of negative spaces. I was very affected by the paintings of Van Gogh at the time so I probably got the Asian influence through him. Like many the artists of his generation active in France during the 19th century, he loved Japanese prints.
If I sound like I’m describing someone else’s painting, well in a sense I am. The painting feels that way. Only slowly do the memories return.