The faces of flowers
The other evening I attended a surprising speech about those little sachets of flower food that you get with cut flowers. As the speaker said, it was ‘food for thought’. So this month, as spring and summer flowers jostle for space – here is a look at the topic of flowers inside and outside of art.
Them or us?
I have a love-hate relationship with flower paintings, floral designs and even photography. Sometimes I feel flowers are too ordinary with nothing new left to do with them. At other times I think it’s right to celebrate these vibrant pieces of perfection. After all, flowers go with particular events and people in our lives. So then I wonder, does everyone link certain flowers with certain people? I had an aunt who was violets; a grandmother who was lily of the valley; my mother-in-law was cream roses; my mother is Strelitzia – that pointy orange and purple Bird of Paradise. For objects that are so closely bound up with our relationships flowers are strangely contrary too. They silently talk –through their symbolism, colour or texture. They enliven – yet are short-lived.
Paradise or war zone?
I look at a flower and conflicting ideas start fighting it out in my head. It’s like the Battle of Hastings in there. There’s a soft innocence about most flowers – and yet they are the reproductive organs of the plant. They are a reasonable face-lift for a room – yet they come at a cost to our home planet. They represent food for the soul - the ideal non-fattening gift for a friend– but should real food be grown in their place?
Petals or politics?
The debate of flowers versus food is a political issue. According to latest research the world does not need to grow more food – we just need to waste less and distribute it better.
Flowers have taken on political meaning through the centuries. The white rose of York and red rose of Lancaster and Dumas’ story, The Black Tulip, (a free Kindle classic) are all examples.
Currently the flower trade provides work for people who need a livelihood. Kenya, India, Pakistan and some South American countries all benefit. This is hugely important. Yet in some cases large quantities of phosphates find their way into the eco-system threatening the local balance of nature and rare wildlife. In other cases the irrigation shrinks lakes or threatens water reserves - with a wide range of side-effects; for example, depleting rivers that provide hydro electric power. We think flowers are colourful – but there are shades of grey.
Eco-friendly art or not?
I’m currently working on a flower painting – and I now see it as a potentially eco-friendly activity. I’m impressed by the example Cas Holmes sets by recycling materials to make her floral art – and I feel another article coming on about 'green' art supplies.
Inspirational and relevant?
Nevertheless all flower painters and floral designers are in good company because, as we all know, famous painters and designers world-over and for centuries have been inspired by flowers. An article in the The Observer – The 10 Best Flower Paintings in Pictures by Laura Cummings, 12 April 2012 – contains an inspirational slide show. The book Flower Paintings by 40 Great Artists by Celia Fisher shows a bigger but similar collection.
Flowers are still relevant for interiors so there is a market there. For example there is a current trend for more intimate and home-like office environments and for bringing nature into the workplace. A small-scale cottage office could take a flower painting or two. A large open plan area could use an enormous scaled-up version of the same.
And guess what has just come through the door - my National Art Pass! Coincidentally there’s a floral design on it – a detail from Ivon Hitchen’s Flowers, 1942.
Most of you will have heard of the National Art Pass I’m sure – but for those who haven’t it’s worth a look. It’s a cost-effective way to get out-and-about and inspired because it gives you free or half-price entry to key exhibitions, great houses and gardens throughout the UK. To register for your card go to the Art Fund website. If you are new to the Art Fund you get 3 months’ free membership. It could save you pounds this Summer alone – and act like a sachet of flower food for the blooms in your art.
Big thanks to everyone who has responded to Belinda’s Bashes so far. Sometimes I find the comments too late to add a response – but I do see and appreciate your input – as I’m sure other members do too! It’s great to know someone is out there…
On the subject of flowers – do you love them or hate them? Do they hold special meaning for you? Are you interested in floral painting or pattern techniques? Do you offer workshops in flower painting or floral design or flower art? Can you recommend an eco-friendly art supplier? Let us know…