By Jill Brooke
Like cheese and wine, some pairings make total sense. A trend has been brewing where, in addition to lectures by educators and expert gardeners, botanical gardens are welcoming artists who paint and draw flowers.
The Berkshire Botanical Garden, located in the popular Massachusetts town of Stockbridge, has been doing this for some time to great success.
Next month, it will welcome artist Cynthia Wick to their roster of special events in the Center House Leonhardt Galleries. Wick’s abstract flower paintings intrigue and delight with splashes of vivid color and inventive shapes. Using acrylics and oils on paper, she creates bold mosaics that mirror nature’s abundant botany.
Wick’s love and knowledge of flowers permeate each painting, which she expresses eloquently.
The painting “Summer in a Gold Pitcher” was inspired by the “yellow dots of spring dandelions on green grass and the yellow iris” a friend had given her.
“I love being in a flower-painting trance, examining the color and shape and the way the flowers seem to dance with each other,” she says. “What’s essential to me is to paint the feeling I have looking at them, not the literal interpretation. The abstraction is essential to give that feeling. The feeling of movement and change.”
A maternal influence also found a place in this painting.
On a gloomy gray day, Wick wanted to shift her mood and thought about her mother’s favorite color, yellow. “I gathered some flowers and put them in a favorite gold pitcher,” she recalls. “I love the way their color is reflected in the gold.”
Her mother also influenced another painting called “Bouquet #4.” Clearly this artist did not have a tortured relationship with her mother.
“I wanted to paint a memory of our rose garden when I was little,” she says. “I used to love walking between the narrow boxwood hedges and peeking over them to the blasts of color and fragrance of my mother’s roses. Bright pink and red and yellow. They seemed enormous to me, like I could walk inside them. I painted this picture solely from memory and painted it larger so the viewer might feel the same way I did.”
Which is exactly what one feels upon viewing this painting.
Artists throughout history have used flowers as metaphor or motif.
Like any credible artist, one is influenced by the grand masters, then detours with their own signature style.
“I love what Georgia O’Keeffe said about painting flowers,” she says. “ ‘When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.’ I think it’s the private intimate act of witnessing beauty. I know it’s what’s interesting to me about painting flowers and nature. Right in front of you is this whole world of color and shape and it takes you on a sweeping and intimate journey if you let it, if you slow yourself down and just bear witness.”
“Bouquet #1” is Wick’s homage to Manet’s late flower paintings, although a touch of O’Keeffe is evident. “I wanted to create a portrait of all the pink flowers I love – roses, peonies, anemones,” she says. “It’s a combination of them all. I imagined a classical portrait of the flowers, almost like a beautiful woman against a rich, dark background.”
“Bouquet #3” was inspired by the wilting of flowers as the petals fall and tumble after their peak. It represents the cycle of life.
“I started painting a bunch of pink and red tulips and continued painting them for a few days as the flowers fell apart,” she says. “Then I thought about cyclamens. So I think they sort of morphed into cyclamens and maybe roses too. These paintings are about the joy and feeling I experience when looking at flowers. The color shapes. The light.”
Born in California, she was surrounded by light as well as sunshine. Childhood memories are evoked by the scented gardenias that grew in abundance at her home garden. Later as her career blossomed, she moved east and was relieved that peonies and lilacs also offered the scents she craved. Though, she does lament how peony and lilac seasons are way too short.
A paintbrush, however, is never far away. After all, Wick can paint her beloved flowers even when they are not in season.
Another painting, “Queen Anne’s Lace Near a Pink House,” was inspired by a visit to a friend’s farm in the Berkshires, where she now resides. “The property looks pink in the evening light,” she says. “There was something about the wild delicacy and strength of those little flowers next to the pink color that was so compelling.” And harmonious. Reflecting on her work, she sighs. “If only humans could get along the way flowers do!”
We couldn’t agree more.
Wick’s show will run from October 18 to December 1. Other cultural centers and their interaction with artists include Wave Hill in Riverdale, New York, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco, one of many art museums that ask florists to interpret paintings in the collection.
Jill Brooke is the former on-air correspondent for CNN and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is the founder of Flower Power Daily.