Monday, November 2, 2009

Why floral art ?

I am attracted to floral imagery because flowers, like people, change with passing time. The passage of time and its effects on nature, objects, memory and identity is a consistent theme in my work . Flowers offer a different perspective on the passage of time , one that carries the hope of renewal within the rhythmic pattern of growth and decay.

Flowers are a perfect metaphor for our lives. Artist Simon Bull has a similar take . "Flowers speak to us about our own human experience; they grow and go through different phases of life just as we do," Bull says. "They tell us stories that can be connected to ourselves."

One of my first artist statements noted that "flowers are insignificant in size and blend into nature's overall design. Their worth is often assessed by fleeting glance and a momentary recognition of beauty." Some artists like Georgia O'Keeffe deal with the insignificance of flowers by greatly enlarging their scale to put them in your face as it were. I have a much more subtle approach , keeping my work small and intimate and inviting the viewer to come closer to see the complex world I create by using colour, texture and subtle layering. Flowers have their own language, one of subtle nuances and subtexts, that goes beyond external appearances. Meaning is found in colour, shape, location, stages of growth and historical connections. I invite viewers to look beyond the obvious to determine what flowers tell us about life. Ryall 2004

The genre of floral art has a long history with origins reaching back to the art of ancient Egypt where flowers were painted on vessels and clothing. Many paintings from the middle ages and onward in Europe use flowers to symbolize various aspects of religion, and in Dutch still life works flowers were often reminders that the delights of the world are transitory. During that time when Dutch vanitas paintings were popular, varieties of flowers were available because of exploration in the far east and the new world. There seemed to be an endless supply of subject matter with the exotic being highly sought and represented through art.

The use of flowers during Victorian times to send messages connected to emotions or personal characteristics has always intrigued me. Rather than directly impart the sentiment to another person, it was all said with flowers. Such a safe, discreet way to behave! Sometimes a whole bouquet needed to be interpreted together to understand the message from the sender. Certainly, this was a very different kind of text. If you received a bouquet of daffodils, pansies and periwinkle the sender would be commenting on your thoughtfulness as a friend and expressing the highest regard for you. Similarly, Chinese flower paintings represent specific emotions and are given as gifts to convey a range of sentiments. The orchid represents a refined, noble or beautiful person, and the peony symbolizes wealth or good fortune.

I often use this "language of flowers" to impart messages to my viewers. I am sending the messages in a language that is now defunct to most people. I don't see this as a useless activity. It is a statement on my part that communication is often a one way affair with the other party being unwilling or unable to receive what is communicated. This theme of communication and how different "texts" can or cannot be read reflects my experiences with students who struggled to make sense of the written word. For them written language was a one way street. My latest body of work "Reading a garden" treats a garden as a text and explore how we make meaning from gardens based on our background knowledge. This work goes a step further and also explores how what we come to understand from our experiences fades quickly with the passage of time.


Kathy said...

This is a wonderful explanation of flower symbolism and the content of your work! I'm particularly interested in your discussion about scale. This is something I've come to think about more this year. O'Keeffe's zoomed-in view on a large scale vs. your smaller scale to invite the viewer in yields completely different experiences for the viewers. The small scale you've adopted would support your idea to create a lexicon for the garden - a book-sized guide for interpreting meaning. Have you posted any of these paintings on the web? I'd love to see them.

Margaret Ryall said...

Mu website is being updated this week. I will have 12 of the reading a garden series added . I'll let you know. They are also posted periodically through my blog . You can search them by clicking on reading a garden on my index. The scale of this work is still modest (10 x 24) and it brings to mind doorways, hedge openings etc. All the ways the viewer is controlled especially in formal gardens. My other floral work using layers and intimate scale can be found on my website. Thanks for dropping by.