Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Garden of Artful Delights

A Garden of Artful Delights
By Tom Wachunas

Occasionally my sensibilities about art and art making need to be retooled, realigned, and otherwise re-inspired. I need to retreat from the celebration of intellectual complexity, confusion, and angst that pervades so much of modern and postmodern art. I need to remember that truly timeless and relevant art doesn’t by definition need to be complicated, outrageous, or arcane, no matter how well executed. I need to remember that, often, the most compelling art is that which can simply slow me down long enough to smell the roses, as it were. Thus slowed down, I might be better moved to savor, as many “serious” artists do, the countless and often ignored miracles of creation to be seen every day, right in front of me.

Speaking of roses, have you recently thought about how astoundingly intricate a flower really is? It’s structure? It’s specific function(s) in nature? How such delicate and apparently fragile things as petals can often withstand sustained 50mph winds and still stay on? The purpose of its aroma? Why women seem so much more passionate about them than men? And do bees have noses? But I digress.

These days the main gallery at the Canton Museum of Art houses a delightfully potent compendium of floral images in various media. While “Kimono” remains for me among the most excruciatingly beautiful exhibits I’ve ever seen, and a hard act to follow, this current show of 55 contemporary floral pieces – “Blossom:Art of Flowers” – is an excellent follow-up and, in its own right, every bit as enthralling and vivid a celebration of natural beauty.

The artworks in this traveling exhibit were selected through an international competition sponsored by the Susan K. Black Foundation, a Texas artist known for her floral paintings and in whose honor a memorial fund was established in 2001. A total of 1,742 pieces by 970 artists from 14 countries worldwide were submitted to a panel of judges in 2006. In effect, the show is not only a monumental homage to the marvelous skills of the participating artists, but also, in its eclectic range of styles, a comprehensive honoring of the history of floral art.

In the realm of flowers depicted in their natural habitat, there are many truly amazing entries here, but few more hauntingly beautiful than “Big Bend Bloom,” an oil by Dennis Farris. In the foreground a cactus with its prickly edges glimmering in sunlight bends toward the center of a vast Western landscape. Its lone red blossom peers out toward the distant, towering mountains bathed in sumptuous blue-gray mist. Serene and heroic.

“Shadow Play,” an acrylic by Elizabeth von Isser, is both a convincing close-up view of a Gold Poppy, and a glorious color-field romp in orange. A delicate tangle of filaments undulates in a sensual dance amid the dramatically shadowed petals, painted in smooth, sweeping strokes. Georgia O’Keefe would be pleased.

Sensual, too, is “Columbine,” a graphite and charcoal drawing by Catherine Giudicy. You wouldn’t think black-and-white to be an exciting first choice for rendering flowers, but she pulls it off here with startling mastery. The range of soft tonalities she achieves, the clean lines and edges, and the remarkable contrasts against a lavishly saturated, velvety black ground all contribute to an uncannily tangible vision so immediate, you half-expect it to burst into full color at any moment.

There are several excellent works here executed in the tradition of the classical still-lifes by 16th and 17th - century Dutch and Flemish masters. The presence of flowers in a still life still holds a visually unique, if not mysterious sway over our attention. Perhaps it has something to do with our desire, in lieu of actually being out in nature, to bring the outdoors in, thus assuaging our longing. The most alluring floral still-lifes, then, need to be thoughtful orchestrations of “geometric,” man-made forms (vases, table tops, and fabrics, for example) in harmony with the organic shapes and positions of the flowers. A particularly successful and thrilling example here is the very small oil painting, “White Daisies,” by Scott B. Royston. Here is a simple, dramatic, trompe l’oeil tableau wherein the crisply painted flowers seem to pop out and levitate against the black background as they rise from a richly rounded pitcher. Miniscule water droplets are poised on petal tips, and a lady bug scurries along a horizontal stem, like the period of an elegantly written sentence.

And indeed, in the context of this show, Royston’s painting is one exclamation point among many.

Photo, courtesy “Tulips with Horseshoe Falls,” oil, by Sherrie Wolf
“Blossom: Art of Flowers” at the Canton Museum of Art through Sept. 20, 2009
(330) 453 -7666

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