When I recently saw the big Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, I was rather disappointed. It seemed disparate, with a huge range in quality of her paintings, and the overall lighting was, I found, strangely cold and uninviting. Nonetheless, as always, there were marvellous gems. Predictably, for me, most of these special pieces were drawings done at various stages by Georgia O'Keeffe. It is always so interesting and important, I find, to see other people's drawings and theirdifferent approaches to creating a drawing: not only the actual materials used to make the marks, the size and presentation, but also the content, the emotions, the impact. Of course, being a drawing, each can potentially be much more direct and fresh, more unvarnished in honesty.Read More
For a long time, I have found that in many instances, what I draw is seemingly dictated to me by happenstance. So when I read a quote from Maggie Hambling, one of Britain's leading figurative artists, about subjects choosing her, it resonated! She said, "I believe the subject chooses the artist, not vice versa, and that subject must then be in charge during the act of drawing in order for the truth to be found. Eye and hand attempt to discover and produce those precise marks which will recreate what the heart feels. The challenge is to touch the subject, with all the desire of a lover."Read More
While on the subject of flowers in art, I realised that each artist has favourite flowers to which he or she returns again and again, whether because of colour, form, symbolism, or whatever.
You only have to think of Georgia O'Keeffe - her depictions of calla lilies are numerous. She loved their sensuous shape, their wonderful designs. In fact, she said quite a lot about painting flowers which especially applies to her Calla Lilies: " When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not." She also remarked, "I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty. " She was quite right. When you walk into a room and see one or more of her Callas paintings, they stop one in one's tracks.
When you look at a calla lily painting or drawing, the symbolism is also implicit: since early Roman times, callas have represented celebrations and purity, hence their use for weddings.
Although they originate in Southern Africa ( perhaps why I love them so much, being from that part of the world), they bloom well in the dark of winter and symbolised the passage of the winter solstice for the Romans. That is perhaps why they are also used so much for funerals, at the darkest time of the year. They came to Europe many centuries ago, but the first known illustration of them was apparently in 1664, when a calla lily was growing in the Royal Gardens in Paris. Since then, countless artists, from Diego Rivera to Marsden Hartley and Ellsworth Kelly, have depicted callas.
I keep returning to calla lilies myself - they seem to lend themselves to silverpoint drawings, with their high key elegance and sensuous forms. They are living sculptures.
Another flower to which I alluded in my previous post about flowers in art is the Regale Lily, favoured in paintings about the Annunciation. It too is a wonderfully elegant, perfumed lily, which keeps calling me to draw it, every time that I find it blooming in my mother's garden in Spain.
Each time one is differently inspired - perhaps the light is different, perhaps the flower is slightly different or at a different stage of opening, but whatever it is, I love to return to these lilies, both callas and regales, just to celebrate their beauty. And while I am drawing them, time stands still, and the world comes into balance. Miraculous.