The name of this blog says it all: Art and Tulips
They have long gone hand in hand for me, even before “The Colors of Jazz.” Painting flowers has never held much appeal for me because I know it’s impossible for me to truly capture their beauty except perhaps in a good photograph, so using photographs in collages has seemed the best way, for me at least, to pull these two loves together.
I was influenced early by my grandmother’s gardens with everything from pansies to roses and tulips and lilies and gladiola, sweet peas, poppies, peonies and lilacs, chrysanthemums and all other manner of floral delights, each in its turn, each in its season.
On my bookshelves, I have the flower books and art books close to each other. The Madderlake floral design books are wonders as is the stunning Irving Penn book, Flower, of flower photos: poppy, tulip, rose, lily, peony, orchid, begonia. Penn says, “The photographs collected in this book were taken for Vogue during seven summer sessions, one each year for seven years.”
Penn’s book is essentially the remarkable and remarkably beautiful visual biography of each kind of flower from birth to death. When I gave my grandmother a copy of the book, she told me she liked best that the photos included not only each flower in its glory, but also each flower at the end, going to seed. “This,” she said, “is when the flower gives new life.”
My grandmother who was formally educated only through the 8th grade, spoke with words wiser than many a professor. Art and tulips. Art and flowers. The cycle of life. Seed to flower to seed.
Penn goes on to talk about where he found the flowers for the photos, some of which were flown in from exotic places.
“Several of our most beautiful roses came from a modest benefactor who appeared early in the mornings before I arrived at the studio. He identified the source of the flowers only as ‘the little old lady who lives down the lane.‘ ”
My grandmother was the little old lady who lived down the block and taught me to love flowers and beauty as much as I do. A fresh and fragrant bouquet of sweet peas in summer brings a rush of indescribable memories:
The big mahogany table in her dining room, the lacy crocheted cloth, the shades drawn to keep the room cool, a bouquet of sweet peas from the garden. And my grandmother the last time I saw her in her house, not in a house dress and apron as I had seen her so often, but in a pair of rolled up jeans and a red checked shirt tied at the midriff. She was in her 90s that day…and had just come in from the garden.
She is ever on my mind. And it was she who perceived my love of art and bought me my first set of paints when I was a child, a gift that led in a not-so-straight-line to where I am today… Working in the garden while I let the painting rest for the winter. She knows I’ll be painting again soon. About the time the tulips are in bloom.
Flowers and art. Hand in hand.