Each cutout shape suspended in this installation came from a drawing. I love to focus completely and for hours on an individual plant – to follow its edges with my eyes and to record intricate curves and angles with my pencil. After first drawing zinnias in 2001, I expanded the scope of the work by selecting a variety of plants to draw each season. As the drawings accumulated, the collection began to reflect the gradual cycle of seasonal change. I pictured each plant fitting into a sequence that marked a full-circle progression of growth through a year and aspired to build a lush collection of forms. I began to think about this practice as a way of marking time.
Cut from stainless steel, the shapes have a greater sense of permanence than their ephemeral plant subjects. The group of silhouettes in Marking Time comes from the stretch of time between April and September - the duration of the exhibition. Instead of watching cherry blossoms fall before butterfly weed blooms, we see the cumulative collection all at once.
My ever-growing collection of plant-shaped stencils enables me to represent precise detail in my paintings. The assortment is arranged along the perimeter of the room where I work. To make April Flowers, I selected spring silhouettes like roses, azaleas, peonies, phlox, and dogwood. After making an underpainting that established a cool atmosphere of light floral color, I set the panel like a tabletop on sawhorses. Next, I positioned stencils – carefully covering colors I wanted to preserve. I then mixed and sprayed a layer of paint to cover the surface and added another layer of stencils. As I repeated this sequence, the image gradually grew more complex. All along, I knew something about what I wanted April Flowers to feel like, but the process also leaves a good bit of room for mystery and surprise. Removing the stencils to see the painting underneath is a bit like unwrapping a gift.
While the process of drawing plants is a wonderfully quiet connection to gradual seasonal change, I am also always aware of a sense of urgency. For example, when I spotted Oxeye Daisies hovering over the horse pasture, I had to stop work on my painting in order to draw them – or wait for them to bloom again the next year.
Many of the most recent plant shapes I have added to my collection are wildflowers. They have unique delicacy that almost seems to contradict their hardiness. Their graceful gestures add something especially fresh and airy to paintings. May Morning bridges the soft cool of spring and the lush growth of summer.
Memory of my summers at Camp DeSoto is a significant part of Summer Garden. While direct observation of the landscape significantly informs my work, so do memory and imagination. One of the things I like about drawing-based work is that even when it represents its subject extremely faithfully, drawing-based work brings something of interior imagination into the physical world.
Camp DeSoto is a real place where I learned to love night noises in the woods and going without climate control all summer, but the landscapes I dream are also informed by what I read. My favorite aspect of many of my favorite books is the setting or atmosphere. I like being in these imaginary places, such as Anne of Green Gables’s Prince Edward Island, while the stories happen and revisiting them year after year like revisiting an actual place.
The large scale of Summer Garden makes the painting somewhat atmospheric. It represents the heart of our growing season – when the world feels steadily green.
August Gold is about heat – hot oranges, yellow greens, and red violets – almost sunset light when summer growth is waning and exhausted.
In addition to collecting lines and shapes, I also collect colors. For years, I made color studies by painting paper swatches – an April dawn, a foggy morning in October, and zinnias fresh, fading, and faded. I went through a phase of painting direct landscape oil sketches – the moment warm spring color looks like fall, the rich color in winter neutrals. Lately, my husband Thad Lee’s photographs have become an important part of my color reference library.
I could not make a complex painting from start to finish during the brief segment of time that sunset light unifies late summer garden colors. Observing and recording colors allows me to ponder and represent an ephemeral moment over a longer time.
When I began making contour line drawings of zinnias in September of 2001, I was enthusiastic and sensed that the work was going somewhere, but I could only ever see the next step. I often used the word “unfolding” because the long view seemed veiled. The subject of my work felt incredibly vast. I couldn’t get at it all at once, but I had time to invest – looking, drawing, painting, cutting, layering, thinking. Somehow, the relatively tiny flowers I noticed and drew seemed to be drawing me toward something much bigger and endlessly interesting.
Looking at September Song, I see many small parts fitting together into a new whole. This painting is structured like a more traditional landscape painting with defined foreground, middle ground, and background – a clear passage for the eye through space. The components were collected over twenty plus years: zinnias, ferns, oak leaves, and a variety of other early fall flora, warm floral colors, greens, and neutrals.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
- William Blake