Caroline Carny, September Morning, 36 x 36 inches, oil on canvas.

A few times last spring I found myself painting a field of flowers. I’d been in the garden, so I thought nothing of it. But as the weeks went forward I started to notice something. My colleagues were overwhelmingly painting flowers, too. And now, at the end of the season, we have a fabulous duo show at Four Eleven Gallery with Caroline Carney and Tessera Knowles-Thompson that’s notable for it’s deep commitment to observational study of plants and flowers.

What’s up with the flowers?

Tessera Knowles-Thompson, Mystery Squash, 11.5 x 19 inches, acrylic and graphite on panel.

Perhaps more flexibly than any other motif, flowers transcend genre. They work as compositional elements of still life, as we’ve seen this summer in Liz Carney, Paul Rizzo, and Mary Giamarino’s superb paintings. They work in the borderlands between figurative and abstract work, as we’ve seen in Julie Shelton Smith’s exquisite compositions. They work as an element of landscape as Caroline Carney and I approach them. And, at least as I intuit her work, they work as surrogates for the figure — almost portraits — in Tessera Knowles-Thompson’s delicate and poetic paintings. 

Julie Shelton Smith, Be Careful What You Wish For, 36 x 48 inches, oil on canvas.

We believe flowers have evolved their exquisite flair to attract pollinators, but what’s in it for us? Is it an objective evolutionary response like a bee? Or is it a subjective, aesthetic impulse to gather, organize and make meaning from the things that move us deeply — a hallmark of our species? Both? Something else? 

The focus on flowers in art isn’t new. Since the 8th century, the chrysanthemum in Japanese art has symbolized the sun, perfection, long life, power and nobility. White roses stood for purity in Renaissance paintings of the Madonna. Andy Warhol’s 1964 silkscreens of hibiscus push the subject toward abstraction and pattern — as a way to be in conversation with fashion and interior design. As a gardener I plant flowers to ensure sustenance for pollinators, but the truth is I’m fascinated by them as a way of composing space. It’s very likely this was Monet’s impulse for creating the gardens at Giverny — and then for using the gardens as fuel for the artworks of his late period. 

Paul Rizzo, East End Garden Club, 9 x 12 inches, mixed media on panel.

As a kid, Provincetown gardens were legendary for their eclecticism and scrappiness. I always saw them as a lesson: great beauty can emerge from hard circumstance with a bit of care and nurturance. In my colleagues’ work I see something similar. Flowers remind us of life’s possibility — it’s ephemerality and endurance — even as the world presses down. 

We continue to have some extraordinary paintings of flowers at the gallery. We’re open seven days this week and for the last three weeks of October we’ll be open Thursday – Monday from 11 AM – 5 PM. Starting in November and through the winter we’ll be open Saturday & Sunday. 

Mary Giammarino, Vintage, 20 x 24 inches, oil on panel.

Liz Carney, Begonia Believed, 16 x 20 inches, acrylic on canvas.

Pete Hocking, I’m Gonna Soak Up The Sun, 36 x 36 inches, oil on panel.

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