A Piece of North Woods, 2013, by Kelly Leahy Radding is a highly accomplished contemporary botanical painting depicting a stumbled upon habitat of the Great North Woods region of New Hampshire. Radding shares her experience here, “It was a beautiful September blue-sky day in the North Woods of New Hampshire, the kind that has you looking up at the clouds much more that you look down at the ground. I was following the quirky flight of a bright yellow Cloudless Sulphur butterfly feeding on late blooming flowers, when my eyes fell upon this tiny, white, spiraling flower growing in a moist, roadside ditch. I looked closer. It was a small colony of Nodding Tresses orchids nestled amongst the mosses. Upon further inspection I saw a whole miniature ecology living out its life in a small space of disturbed earth.
Artists often find artistic inspiration and influence from other artists whose work they admire. One of my influences has been the natural history works of Albrecht Dürer. I had the immense pleasure of seeing my three favorite paintings in person at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria. One of them, Great Piece of Turf, 1503, is an epic visual poem of the teeming plant life in a diminutive patch of earth. As soon as I realized that I was looking at my own “Great Piece of Turf”, I knew I had to paint it as an homage to Dürer. Choosing to paint it on a piece of vellum made me feel even more connected to Dürer as it was a surface he also used.”
Although inspired by the German painter, Radding often infuses her work with romanticism, accentuating a plant’s sensuality. As seen in this piece, her stylistic interpretation, flawless composition and expert painting technique draw the viewer in to this microcosmic habitat one never wants to leave.
Representing Lizzie’s exceptional botanical art since 2003, I recognized the importance of her work and the need for the world to experience it. She blended the historical significance of botanical documentation with a contemporary aesthetic. Sander’s was universally alone in this quest, her works are distinguished for their minimalist approach, every brushstroke has a purpose. She brought the crisp light from her Edinburgh studio into each articulated stroke, producing masterpieces with an expert command of the dry brush technique. The result was always a detailed description of the plant with a nod to science while intentionally rendering a 21st century composition. I would compare her work to Rory McEwen, the Scottish botanical painter, both were drawn to paint the plants at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh with a modernist viewpoint. The results were unforgettable botanical paintings, accurate in their content and transporting fine art. Both artists left us too early and we are forever wanting for more. My hope is the Royal Botanic Garden mounts a similar exhibition to McEwen’s, celebrating Sander’s incredible oeuvre.
In the world of contemporary botanical portraiture, Jean’s in-depth understanding of color and its application mesmerizes the eye and
excites the mind. The artist’s intentional cropping and placement of
the specimen with the negative space below was carefully choreographed for the viewer to feel like they are looking up at the tree with nature hovering overhead.
Watercolor on Kelmscott vellum
14 x 17 inches
Elizabeth Enders has captured a vision of the Milkweed through careful observation of an original specimen and an immediacy of painting style. Her approach to extracting the plant’s form with a few powerfully painted lines, carries the full weight of its parts. Her contemporary vision of a complicated plant, simplifies its very form to pure elegance. As winter draws to a close, we reflect on this change through a stunning dried specimen and within her “winter blues” and greens.
Elizabeth Enders, Milkweed VII, 2018, watercolor on paper, 14.5 x 11 inches. Available for purchase.
Winter is a time for introspection, appreciating the landscape lacking canopies of coverage. Branches extend skyward with greater reach as new growth emerges pointing toward Spring. Recently I visited the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT to see Pressed for Time: Botanical Collecting as Genteel Pastime or Scientific Pursuit? running through March 3. Concerning the hobby and profession of plant collecting at the turn of the 19th century, several collectors collections show the diverse purposes for gathering specimens. Some plants were pressed to show plants for posterity as their owners were stewards preserving current plant-life (scientific), others tended toward the leisurely pursuits of walking through nature, plucking and pressing to enjoy the art of nature (respectable pastime). It was a transporting story of a simpler time with a pure focus on nature.
Please enjoy Beverly Duncan’s Ashfield Compositions focusing on Winter. Her piece depicts specimens found during the season in Ashfield, MA, nestled in the eastern foothills of The Berkshires. Historically an agrarian community, Duncan looks down during long walks, collecting specimens from nature first planted and cultivated in the 18th century.
Winter Browns and Grays, 2015
watercolor on paper
Connie Scanlon’s Blueberries tell a color story of formation of fruit through its pale green stage at first, onto reddish-purple hues during growth and dark purple when ripe. Its wax coating offers a romantic haziness, an aesthetic impression and distinctive characteristic.
Scanlon has painted this fruit numerous times, clearly mastering its form through her dry brush technique and the subtle crescendo of color allows us to gaze and ponder about something we usually consume with haste.
Transitions (blueberries), 2018
watercolor on vellum
7 x 9.5 inches
When I first landed eyes on Kelly Leahy Radding’s Pele’s Pincushion (ohi’a leu), a painted plant portrait on dyed black goatskin vellum (below), the black background was a sharp reminder of the power that nature has over itself. The plant can be found as 100ft tall trees in the rainforest or 1,000 year old bonsai trees in the mountain blogs. ”The only stable characteristic of the plant is its pincushion-type flower.” It is sacred to the volcano goddess Pele (who, according to legend, resides in the Kilauea Volcano) . ”This plant not only survives, but thrives on the sulfur-filled air near the volcanic vents.” (Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants) The black lava spewing out of Kilauea has erupted into our consciousness, our American landscape once again compromised by nature’s force. Plants somehow find there way back into our vision, poking through as a reminder of rebirth.
Radding found the specimen at Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauai on the Northwest part of the island, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. They were heavily damaged by the recent floods. The only road out to that part of the island was swept away. She says, “just another reminder that Mother Nature and Pele are the powers here, not us.
The elegance of this composition and strength of the background juxtaposed to the plant is mesmerizing. Radding’s choice of the black ground is a striking resemblance to the current event and comments on nature’s theatre. An incredible masterwork by one of the finest 20th century living botanical artists working today. Should you be interested in acquiring this work, part of the proceeds will go towards helping those who lost their homes from Kilauea’s fury.
Pete’s Pincushion, 2017
opaque watercolor on dyed goatskin vellum
9 x 11.5 inches
Impressions of Woody Plants: Disjunction, Two Artists and The Arnold Arboretum
Featuring Beverly Duncan watercolor paintings and Bobbi Angell’s copper etchings
May 11-July, 22, 2018, Hunnewell Building, Jamaica Plain, MA.