Painting Flowers has an extraordinary history. For millennia Chinese artists used floral subjects to decorate ceramics, textiles, and paintings. Eventually Europeans would catch up. Caravaggio presented an early isolated basket of flowers. By 1600 Jan Brueghel the Elder made images of bouquets in vases and pots. The 17th century saw an explosion of these bouquet paintings (example 1 by Van Der Ast). Our fascination with the subject never abated. Through today artists continue to reinvent floral painting. The topic is as popular among community art centers as well as contemporary art stars in contemporary museums.
Example 1. Balthasar Van Der Ast, 1630,oil on oak panel,
Tracing the evolution and mutations of the bouquet and other floral patterns demonstrates the elasticity of the florals. We see how easily the bouquet was appropriated by fabric designers as in example 2 presenting a fabric from 1831. This printed fabric demonstrates the popularity of the subject for diverse categories from dress wear to wall coverings.
Example 2. Printed fabric from England, 1831.
Although claiming to be exclusively a plein air artist, Claude Monet, painted floral still lifes using his atmospheric broken brushwork and dissolved edges to create glowing volumes in his work (example 3).
Example 3. Claude Monet Floral,
John Singer Sargent preferred the crepuscular light of early evening while working on “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”. This plein air work depended upon the effects of fleeting light found in the waning day. Friends observed his process here. They noted how he waited (until after his afternoon Tennis game) to paint until the daylight suited the painting. He would make several attempts on this painting and, each time scrubbed it off until his familiarity with the composition was so thorough that deft brushework could be confidently unleashed. Then the work came quickly and elegantly. Observers remarked on the sad loss of so many fine preliminary works (examples 4 and 5).
Example 4. Sargent, detail from “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” 1886.
Example 5. Full image of the Sargent painting.
Modernists like Picasso took on the still life subject early in their career as you see in this example from 1900 (example 6). The dynamic tumbling shapes and blurred edges of Picasso’s later Cubism would appeal to subsequent abstractionists. By the late 20th century hard edged photo realists and abstractionists alike adopted floral themes. Example 7 shows a James Rosenquist’s floral painting. Here the image is flattened with scissored affects stretching across flowers presented as if they were flat as wrapping paper. Rosenquist’s origins as a billboard sign painter undoubtedly contributed to his aesthetic.
Example 6. Pablo Picasso from 1900,
Example 7. James Rosenquist from 1985,
What follows are examples of my own recent explorations of florals. Like other 21st century artists I am interested in expanding the genre with my own innovations. Because we citizens of the 21st century are used to seeing the effects of digital distortions in our media it is easier for us to accept such mutations in painting. With lenses to allow close-ups and diffraction distortions, captures of blurred motion, software manipulations and other mutations artists like me have a new and vast menu of possibilities. Here are five examples for my floral experiments with motion, proximity, color contrasts, translucence, glow and glare, and varieties of both edge dissolution and, enhanced edge acuity. Notice some images have a vertical motion and others a horizontal one.
Example 8. Glancing Flowers, oil on enameled laminated aluminum,
Example 9a. This represents an intermediate step for “Racing Sunlight”,
Example 9. Racing Sunlight, current state, oil on enameled laminated aluminum,
Example10. Cascade of Sunlight, oil on enameled laminated aluminum, in process,
Example 11. Ascending into Sunlight, oil on enameled laminated aluminum,
Example 12. Sweeping Sunlight, oil on enameled laminated aluminum,
Join me this spring at the Huntsville Museum of Art (Huntsville Alabama) for a Master Workshop there, Natural Elements: Painting with the masters, Old & New Techniques with David Dunlop”. The workshop is part of the Museum Academy program. Thursday May 3rd – Sunday May 6; 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Register on line at hsvmuseum.org or call 256 535 4350 ext 215.