30 x 23.75 in | 76.2 x 60.3 cm
The Impressionists were more interested in the play of light on trees than in faithfully rendering their unique structures. At the other end of the spectrum lies the botanical tradition. It celebrates the unique structure of each plant but sacrifices light and the natural arrangement of living plants. Botanical paintings usually show cuttings carefully arranged, detached from their natural environment and frequently including flowers, fruit, leaves, and stems—all taken from different seasons but combined in one image. These paintings provide a comprehensive display of a species but they lack the emotional impact of the living plant caught in a moment of its life cycle.
In contrast, my starting point in painting flora is an emotional response to their unique structure and complexity. I’m delighted when viewers recognize the plant I have painted as a familiar friend that lives in their garden or along their favorite hiking trail. A response to this painting that I would be very satisfying to me is “Look honey, that’s a Rhody!” as if the viewer is greeting an old friend. But I would dearly like the viewer’s response not to end there. I hope that the painting will provoke viewers to explore the details too—the shape of each flower, bud and their clustered arrangement, the graceful sweeping arches of the branches, and the leaves, bright yellow when new, then dark green and various shades of blue. My goal is to encourage viewers to experience the plant as they would the portrait of a dear friend. Familiarity with every line would not render the friend’s face boring. The details only add to the pleasure.
As I looked up into this kaleidoscope of leaves sparkling in the sunlight I did feel as if I were reuniting with an old friend. I am very familiar with the rosettes of leaves fanning downward, the upright clusters of flowers varying in hue from a deep red to the palest violet, and the arching curve of the branches. I look forward to the Catawba Rhododendrons (Rhododendron catawbiense) whenever I’m in the Smoky Mountains National Park.