The crepe myrtles are blooming right now. All over the region they are in fullest flower, some trees are covered with blossoms. I have always loved them from my earliest childhood. My mind connects them to the many journeys to North Carolina to visit my Grandmother back when parts of North Carolina were still rural and wild. I remember the heat and an enormous landscape, a quiet that overflowed with insect noise.
We all have different sources of nostalgia, but I think that sometimes in art we communicate the nostalgia inside the painting — even if your summers had radically different referents — perhaps you can feel the nostalgia as a force in itself and find in a picture something that returns you to a place of special meaning in your heart.
I painted this landscape a couple years ago. And it’s today’s featured work for my new website at Fine Art America where reproductions of some of my pictures are sold.
This picture pairs well with another crepe myrtles painting, both have similar bright colors and energy. One is vertical, one is horizontal.
I keep seeing wonderful crepe myrtles on my trips through the region. I have got to find time to portray them again. Just drawing the shapes of the forms takes me back to a dreamtime of my past.
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.
“Face it” was what he often said. It was one of his expressions, his way of making something emphatic.
Now with cleaning house, with making this wonderful transformation, this transformation that will lead to yet other new and even more wonderful transformations, I am facing things. I take a last glance over a certain landscape that was the past. I will always remember. But life is utterly new now. And our life is so beautiful and so bright.
I feel a great surge of optimism. It is like a wave at the beach that almost topples you while you stand, that makes you turn and smile and laugh in the spray, catching the gaze of your companions. It’s like brilliant sunlight blanketing a field. It’s like every lovely expansive day that you’ve ever lived.
Almost a year ago I began working on this cartoon for a painting. I don’t recall what prompted it. I carried it with me when my daughter was taking a class somewhere, and I worked on it inside an empty art classroom while I waited. It was my portable project.
I had plans for painting it that I still have not as yet realized. But the idea has stuck with me. It’s one of several thoughts I have about future flower paintings. Now it seems almost fortuitous that I waited since the Frederick Bazille exhibit at the National Gallery of Art includes several large paintings of flowers.
I can begin my picture while I have all these exemplary models near by. Also, you see, being in the midst of the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017, one becomes nostalgic. In fact I discovered that a year had passed after finding, while I was cleaning, an old notebook from a year ago where I had been recording the ideas.
I blogged about it too. Somewhere I have a bunch of related drawings. These reproductions will probably be easier to locate than the originals — even now — even as I sort through stuff.
Cleaning house is a psychological event. I have already had more than one reunion with a long lost item. I am discovering while reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” that many things that fill my house can easily be tossed. I haven’t used them in years. I don’t need them. I’ll never use them. Time to release such things back into the wild.
But I am also finding many things that were merely hidden under the crush of stuff. Retrieving these items is archaeology. Rediscovering these hidden items gives me access to other parts of my memory. They are like windows opening onto my past life.
And so cleaning house is a bit like dreaming.
I never know exactly what I will find. I open a door and an image is waiting there.
I am welcoming many long interred ideas back into my life. And it is changing me.
Memory is a source of invention.
The Little Bouquet is little not because the flowers were small, but because the image is small. Scale in art offers an often uncelebrated emotional factor to an image. Small things affect us differently than large ones do. Small pictures sometimes convey a greater sense of intimacy that comes from the way that small things can be held in our hands, are seen in miniature, are made more jewel-like perhaps or more precious-seeming.
In this picture the smallness of things seemed to suggest a philosophical idea — that the small, though often over-looked thing, can be a receptacle and a source of great meaning. A simple vase of flowers reminds us of the ever flowing passage of time. The beauty of all transience can call us back to reverence for life, can remind us of our need to savor the present. These lovely flowers might have been connected to any of life’s celebrations as they sit in quietude upon a table gleaming in the light.
I saw it as a microcosm of time, a moment when Nature and humanity gathered together. The passage of all loved things was once like this, a glimmering moment of light and life.
Little Bouquet of Flowers is a pastel painting on textured paper measuring 11 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches.