A lot of my fellow art students and artists that I meet (that consider themselves contemporary) have a bit of a beef with flowers. They don’t like them. They think they’re cheesy, boring, and ugh, as art subjects. They’re for “old ladies!” I used to feel this way as well. Floral paintings just always seemed so cheesy to me. It seemed like such an art cliche- the still life of flowers in a vase, on a table with some sort of fabric strategically laid out. We’ve all seen the mediocre watercolor flower paintings, seen our grandmothers tablecloths adorned with loud floral patterns. And I’m sure we’ve all seen every amateur “photographer” proudly post a close-up view of a flower to their flickr account. Flowers seemed like such a safe, saccharine subject matter to me as a young artist. The inherent sexism of it all- what with all this animosity towards subject matter that was so overtly feminine, was lost on me then.
It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I discovered (and could appreciate the erotic undertones of) the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work essentially woke me up to the fact that flowers, like any subject, held the potential to produce amazing, innovative work if in the hands of a capable artist.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.IV
Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.V 1930.
Nevertheless, I just never really got “into” flowers all that much. I drew them occasionally through the years, but flowers have never really excited me as a subject. However, recently I completed a painting commission for a family friend who wanted me to do a painting of Plumeria, the flowers that grew around her childhood home in Hawaii. And she wanted it to be 22×30″. So, a huge painting of flowers. I was a bit scared, to say the least. But, I got over it, and researched the subject and approached it as I would any drawing/painting. And I found that I really enjoyed it. Here is the finished result:
Megan Koth, Plumeria. Commissioned work. June 2012. 30×22″
I love doing commissioned work because it takes me out of my comfort zone. Artists can get stuck into ruts of sticking with what makes them feel safe and secure, even when they think that they’re challenging themselves. For me, as a student, it’s especially important to me that I avoid doing this. I’m not saying that I’m gonna start churning out flower paintings left and right, but now that I know how well I can incorporate flowers into my style of working, I’ll be a lot more receptive when the time comes.