Same Orchid, different spike

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Oil on canvas, 14″ x 14″

Having struggled with painting orchids – replicating the close-up beauty of the flowers a la Georgia O’Keeffe has been too tall an order for me – I’m having more success now. The trick has been to focus on a branch of flowers, as then there are more shapes to work with, both positive and negative, and they lend themselves to quick brushwork. It makes for more fun too, as I’m trying to capture the morning light on and through the petals before it changes and it’s afternoon, and this faster work prevents me from getting too precious. The smaller canvas size also helps – I have another monster canvas that’s taking forever to complete, so this is a nice breather.

Loose Lady Orchid

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oil on canvas, 14″ x 14″

In an attempt to loosen up, as my studio work has been consistently laborious and ultimately not much fun, I took to the orchid I’d bought myself as a birthday present with the intention of painting. I pass her every day and admire her beauty. She has a lovely spot in the hallway patio; the morning sun illuminates her petals, and she glows. So today I responded to her beckoning and for the first time in a long time I’m happy with the result.

I pray that this is an approach that will work for me again –  loose, gestural, spontaneous and not overworked – and as it feels so natural and authentic to sketch with the paint in this responsive way, I feel heartened that maybe it just will…

Agapanthus pathway

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Oil on Canvas, 24″ x 54″

Another agapanthus piece. So many good memories associated with these flowers must be what keeps me painting them, that and their beauty. And the variety in their shapes, from the form of the buds, to the opening stages, to the full spherical glory of them – they seem to offer an ongoing exploration. Then there’s the light that shines through them, making them a whimsical and dreamy subject…

I remember when my oldest daughter was four, five, six years of age and I had birthday parties  for her in the garden in Mandeville, in the cool central hills of Jamaica, where the agapanthus thrive. They usually begin to bloom in late April, which is when her birthday is. Rather than be too involved with the party and the other kids, she’d slowly walk through the beds of agapanthus, distracted by something more important and interesting to her I suppose. Being the same height as the blossoms, she was at eye-level with them, and she’d be lost in their magic, her little fingers touching the petals, her focus on watching the bees as they went in and out of the flowers, her little feet steeping carefully between plants. She was a slight little thing, with near white hair, and I’d see her head glinting between the big blue and purple blossoms, the rest of her lost in the mass of them. Now she’s all grown up and a corporate lawyer in the City of London…how times change : )

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Again, this one was started months ago and has gone through so many changes, but I think finally I can leave it and move on.

Note to self: In trying to be more abstract with the work, more about the paint and the surface and the sense evoked, many areas and colors emerge that I really like, but then it becomes too confusing and indecisive, and so I keep working, day after day and week after week, and if I’m lucky I’ll end up with a piece that emits a feel of the subject, but it’s no longer and abstraction. How to solve this?

View of Soldier Camp

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Oil on canvas, 40″ x 28″

Begun months ago, this piece is finally finished.

Based on memories of being up in the hills in April or May, when the agapanthus were in full bloom and the hills were green from plenty of rain~

Walking between Woodside and Greenwich, on a narrow meandering roadway overlooking valleys of sweeping majesty, birdsong and woodland scents filling the air. In the distance the buildings of Soldier Camp glint in spring sunshine, and along either side of the Greenwich driveway the thriving gardens blaze with color. The healthy blossoms all boisterously happy in the cool air; if flowers could sing it’d be a choirburst of sound.

Now that it’s in the heat of summer, and with the holiday weekends coming up, many will be escaping into the hills, leaving the hot plains of Town behind, but those Springtime gardens of lilies and agapanthus are over ’til next Spring. Just a memory…

Once again, so many manifestations of this painting lie beneath the final surface, and all are now lost. The process seems to demand a certain heartlessness – areas that work are sacrificed in order to get all the areas to work together, to make the whole thing relate, and in that process certain fresh strokes and color combinations die. I can’t say that the finished piece is the best of all the versions that have gone before, it’s just that it now reads as a particular scene; the composition and colors make sense. It’s a long and laborious process and one that I’ve yet to master. Once again I’m reminded of Monet throwing himself into the river in frustration… I so understand.

Summer Heat

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oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″

Finished a piece today, finally. When I started this one, loosely brushed a structure onto the canvas, it was so soft and ethereal, all misty greys and soft yellow light, and a composition that really formed itself. It was lovely, and I thought all I had to do was a few touches here and there and it was done, and I imagined that I was at last getting the hang of doing something quickly and well. Many weeks later I think I may have managed to pull it together, but not before labouring up many wrong turns, losing the soft subtlety long ago… It seems I am unable to do a gentle piece, that the paint in my hands has to have drama going on…so I gave into it and let the rich reds squelch and writhe, and the golds shimmer and pop. It reminds me now of the icons I used to immerse myself in many years ago, and that’s not a bad thing… and maybe one of these years I will know how and when to stop while it’s still fresh and gestural.

I’ve been thinking I should really get out of the garden and try a different subject, but these forms are very fun to paint, challenging too, but lots going on… wouldn’t mind doing another and abstracting it some – we’ll see.

Medinilla Magic

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oil on canvas, 41″ x 28″

The Medinilla Magnifica is one of these magical plants that’s so exquisitely beautiful it takes your breath away. A healthy and mature plant will bear many blossoms, each a cross between chandeliers and pink grapes, and every one in varying stages of flowering. Their ergonomic leaves are a sultry green, their strong stems tinged with a pale gold. The last time I saw one in full bloom was up in Greenwich, in the Blue Mountains above Kingston, although I have one in my garden that has yet to perform its magic. It’ll soon happen, when this queen of plants is ready ~ if everyone had a garden to tend there might well be peace on earth…

Tomorrow marks the end of the first month of having all day every day to paint.  I have two more to go, God willing. It’s a summer of no distractions, no commitments, no plans and no expectations other than to paint. Every morning I get up and go to the studio where it’s just me, the brushes, the paint, the canvas, and beautiful inspiring music (from RTE Lyric FM’s The Blue of the Night. One art form influencing another, the soundscapes suggesting an otherworld where every mark is intentional and beautiful and perfectly placed…) Because of this open time, progress is finally being made, and that is cause for quiet and deep gratitude. In the words of a painter who’s work I admire, Scott Conary, I’m becoming a better painter, and that’s no small thing.

I know how lucky I am to be able to do what I want to, and I don’t take it lightly. As with anything, showing up consistently has been the key thus far, as has slowing down and thinking about what I want to paint, letting it simmer within in vagueness for a while, and when it stays and makes itself clearer, I quickly sketch a wee plan on paper, and then sketch it loosely with a wash on the canvas, using a limited palette. Then I wait. Wait and see what it wants. There’s a fine line to be found between letting the paint and marks lead the way and restraining my own heavy-handedness, and when that happens there’s hope…

 

The meandering pathways of Mount Usher

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watercolor, 14″ x 20″

There are so many gardens to visit in County Wicklow. Each and every one of them is a charming response to the natural beauty of the county known as the Garden of Ireland; gardens within a garden-on-a-grand scale, so to speak. Mount Usher is a small one, an acre or two along the banks of the River Varty, but every foot of it is host to something, all adding up to a vast array of carefully planted trees, shrubs and flowers through which narrow pathways lead. You take your time along these pathways as there is just so much to see and enjoy, and the flowing river is always nearby, with reflections and floating petals creating a surface that would have Monet rooted firmly on its banks, complete with easel and a stack of canvases to capture the changing light.

My mother and I sat in a patch of bluebell-strewn grass, attracted to the carpet of flowers with light streaming through the fern tree that sheltered them. Lovely though it was, little did I know what a challenge I was taking on with that glorious fern, never having attempted one before…I particularly enjoyed the irony that I’d come all the way from Jamaica, an island with more endemic ferns that anywhere else on Earth, and set up to paint an Irish garden where Springtime  flowers were running riot, yet ended up painting a fern for the first time… But it whetted my appetite for more as in the end I realized that there’s a lot to be explored with its gentle frondy habit…