Models For Gardens

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For thousands of years we have cultured symbols for picturing flora. We still borrow the same stem imagery, the same schema for our fabrics, dining plates, wall coverings and quick sketches. We can trace how these models of flora are passed through time and culture and then, modified for new applications.  For instance, consider example one.  Here is a late 15th century tapestry from the southern Netherlands. These floral patterns are not alien to us. Subconsciously, I find myself reusing them in my own landscape imagery.

We all rely on inherited models and schema for making any image, or anything else from beer recipes to houses. We modify those models. Their presence in our minds constricts our menu of the infinitely possible because, they are the menu. At best we can make modifications to this menu (to the schema) by reconciling careful observations with these inherited models.

Example 1. Netherlands Millefleurs Tapestry, 1490s.

In all of the following examples you will see how artists have tried to modify standard and repetitious forms into a coherent impassioned design. We begin with two artists who recently worked with me in a workshop at the Ponte Vedre Cultural Center in Florida.  One artist, Paul Gala, built an arresting image from overlapping, vivid, bending, striated flora forms (example 2). He works in oil on dibond-like aluminum. I also work on this same material.

Example 2. Paul Gala’s abstracted flora pattern.

Working on the same material, Kathryn Poch painted example 3 en plein air. We were sitting amidst a forest of Saw Palmetto and Live Oak.  Using overlapping receding patterns for the fans of the Palmetto, Kathryn aggregates these forms in linear and atmospheric perspective to give a feeling of luminous space and, a semi-abstracted vision of a saw palmetto glade. Here, we see her work on location.

Example 3. Kathryn Poch Saw Palmetto Glade; painting on location.

In pursuing my own work I relied not only on historical pictographic flora patterns but, on individual historical examples as well.  For scale I have always enjoyed Albrecht Durer’s intimate watercolor of a section of turf.  For a variety of reasons, I suspect he used either a concave lens or a camera obscura in the development of this image (example 4)

Example 4. Albrecht Durer watercolor, contemporaneous with example 1.

Like Monet and many others, I found myself attracted to the same motif at different seasons.  I began with a winter’s view of a “subtle stream” (example 5) as an oil on brushed-silver dibond-like aluminum. Next, I returned to see how this micro-zone appeared on May 1st.  Example 5 presents the earlier winter version. Example 6 presents the May 1st version.

Example 5. Winter’s “Subtle Stream”, oil on brushed silver.

Example 6. Spring, same location, oil on brushed gold, 24×24.

Continuing with Durer’s micro-zone theme I turned to our rock garden with its early blooming Vinca.  Note how I reprise some of the same floral shapes found in both the Albrecht Durer and the Dutch tapestry.

Example 7. Step one, the lay-in

Example 8. Step two, after initial squeegee work to reveal flora shapes.

Example 9. Step three, the image in its present state.

On May 19th there will be an opening reception, 5-8 PM, for an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.  The next evening, Saturday May 20th, at 4 PM I will be giving a free painting demonstration in the gallery’s garden.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques”  At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a  3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop” .  Call 919 838 8580 or register online by visiting


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