This small painting Sea Flower will be on exhibit beginning this week in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, at the Torpedo Factory. It combines two of my favorite things — a Queen conch seashell and my favorite floral cloth.
Here’s another view of the cloth, a detail from another painting.
The favorite floral cloth ends up in a lot of things.
In Sea Flower the two subjects almost blend together in a fairly abstract image. It was the camouflaging of the seashell in the painting that made me realize that the Queen conch is kind of a flower itself, a hard beautiful calcite flower.
The painting on exhibit is for sale. Inquire for details.
Many times a bouquet of flowers will be arranged as though to get at a perfect order. I arrange the flowers when I paint them. But the random arrangement of weary flowers is lovely too. The flowers bunched along two sides of the vase leaving one green fond striving upward in space alone. That single leaf intersects the purple shadow that descends from the cloth behind the bouquet locking the composition together .
The striped cloth is a marvel to look at. I love to portray it. Its bands describe the shape of the space they occupy like a physics of color. The bands of green along the sides of the gourd running perpendicular to the bands in the cloth are Nature imitating art. Many colors are scattered through this picture and only the precision of their positions gives them balance. In a picture like this one, the only goal is to put each color exactly where it belongs. And then the rest is easy. The picture composes itself. And then the image resembles the things, like a mirror of life.
Striped Cloth with Flowers and Gourd is a pastel painting measuring 18 x 24 inches.
Bold yellow tea roses, a brilliant violet color in the background, a white and blue table cloth along with three bright orange, plump persimmons: these compose the scene with additional help from a jaunty white pitcher in the center that has a single pink painted rose decorating its rondure. Sometimes the colors and positions provoke a mood. This arrangement seemed provocative to me. It feels assertive. I thought the objects seem to speak. It is for each individual spectator to decipher life’s bold messages.
Tea Roses is a pastel painting measuring 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches.
I put some of my feelings into a bundle arranged in different colors, placed them into a glass of cool fresh water, set them upon the table, then stood and gazed at them to begin learning who I am and what I want.
The two paintings separated by slightly over twenty years are similar. The subjects are essentially the same. A vase of flowers sits on the table. Surrounding each bouquet are light airy background colors. Whatever you see is there because I put it there. I arranged the flowers and then painted them. How the two works differ reveals not only what I learned in the intervening years, it reveals differences in the way I think in past and present. We know it doesn’t reveal anything about the flowers because the flowers don’t change.
What’s the difference between a white background and a pale blue one? What about the introduction of blue and orange together — those chromatic opposites — what is the meaning of that? Or the emotional effect? How does it make you feel to look at a bunch of daisies sitting on a table? What are the connotations of daisies. They mean something different from roses. Why? Nature has given them radically different forms. The rose has depths. One remembers so many different experiences of flowers by smelling them, holding them, watching them grow, by receiving or giving them as gifts.
Do the details take you deeper into the feelings? Are the details more elaborate emotional landscapes? Shouldn’t we bring things closer for inspection? Closer is more.
These things that reveal our lives to us are so important. For me it’s art, for others, it is something else. Give some thought to the things that connect you to your past and to who you are inside.
Even seeing the differences when you’re the spectator tells something about the two image ideas. The differences in your feelings when you look at different scenes can tell you much about yourself if you watch and listen to the thoughts and feelings.
Scribbling out the idea … it’s like sight reading in music. I’m not sure how the music sounds yet. I haven’t actually heard it. I’m reading the parts, getting figures in my head. First I have to find out what is there. Later I will look for interpretation. First comes practice. At some future juncture my hands will go straight to the notes. You must assimilate the music. It has to go from the page to the interior of your head. You have to hear it a while, get a feeling for the whole, discover its anticipations, its revelations.
There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. I don’t even know what the beginning is. I compose the visual music at the same time that I learn it.
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.