For decades I have been creating art in circles surrounded by squared edges. When I first made this type of work it was in the mid-1970’s. The circle was most often represented by an apple inside a square or cube. At that time it represented to me the yin and yang, female and male complements to our lives and our characters. The apple was an Eve figure, soft, female, curious, playful and seductive. The boxes were the rules, the male, the limitations, the protection and the containment of her attributes.
Apples in Boxes – A pointillist drawing in ink on paper. c1970’s
I have recently returned to this theme but using flowers from my garden as the subjects rather than apples. It feels so calming to me when I create these voluptuous rounded floral paintings. This peony was the first in a series of exploring again the circle in a square imagery so I named it “Centering” because that is how I feel towards these works. I find my centering in two places, in my studio and in my garden. They completely complement each other, one provided by nature and one in interpreting that vision.
There is a difference between the imagery of then and now. These flowers, though they are encompassed in a square format canvas, they are not contained. They are bursting through the limitations of frame, of edges, of inhibition. They are positive and empowered by their form and by their explosive color. They are neither shy nor retiring. They declare themselves as having established their own space. They are declaring themselves as individuals.
The flowers I create in my studio with brush and canvas speak to me beyond their intricacy of form, color, ruffles and swirls. LIke everyone else they initially attract me with the way the color changes as the light graces their outer curves and when it delicately enters their inner recesses, their intimacy. The edges of petals dance like ballerina skirts bouncing in the breeze. Their edges are fluted, scalloped, curved and splayed defining their differences and embracing their similarities of purpose.
I love the architecture of flowers, not just how they grow on their stems, their height, their leaves and their unique outward appearance. I concentrate on the inner architecture of their center parts, the configurations of their pistils and stamens, their anthers laden with pollen. Quite frankly, these flowers are built to seduce their pollinators. The birds and the bees but also the billions of bugs who help by rolling in their pollen to feast and to share and to help create the next generation to grace the earth.
Flowers speak to me of our universe. Our purpose. Our endurance. Each flower is an individual with its own color, shape and form. It’s own choices of community, culture and companionship. It’s own needs for climate, food and water for sustenance. But we all share our need to survive, another season, another year, another generation.
Whether I am among the flowers in my garden or the flowers in my studio, I embrace our diversity and our commonalities. All these flowers in soil or on canvas speak beyond themselves, they’re ideas and thoughts beyond just the visual. They speak to the interior of our purpose and our minds. They are us.
Not until I studied botany and viewed flower structures under magnifying glasses and microscopes did I really appreciate their magnificence. As a life-long gardener I looked at and created landscapes, matching groups of plants to be seen from a distance, blending distant views of overall colors and shapes. Matching seasons and cultivation needs, heights and spreads contributing to the designs I created in gardens and on canvas in my landscape paintings.
A rainbow of colors in a friend’s May garden. Photo by Mary Ahern.
But that aha moment of peering dramatically close to the parts of a flower opened a whole new world of vision and contemplation for me.
By painting my flowers overly large and entirely out of scale from the real world, I try to bring that same sense of awe to my viewers. Show them something of what I see. I try to create for them their own aha moment of joy and wonder to take on their journey.
My studio is overflowing as I create new work for my show at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Mary Ahern brings her award-winning style of floral and garden inspired art to the Bayard Cutting Arboretum from May 17 through June 17, 2018. Three galleries of her floral portraits will be on display at the historic Manor House at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River NY. The galleries are open on Thursdays through Sundays from 11 am until 4 pm.
Mary Ahern, known for her brilliant floral and garden paintings will be showing her latest large-scale flower portraits. As a passionate gardener who is inspired by the gardens she designed and tends surrounding her own studio, these flowers represent to her a microcosm of the universe. The large scale of these individual portraits asks questions beyond the canvas.
What is the purpose for such magnificence in nature? What is the reason for such color, such form, such diversity? What is their relationship to the communities in which they belong, their relationships with other plants and species that sustain them, invade them and nourish them. What of their lifecycle of birth, growth, senescence and rebirth? As humans, what can we learn from their seemingly simple existence?
Initially we see with our eyes. We name it, identify it and classify it. But we also have a duality of vision which allows us to contemplate with an inner vision. This art invites both the external and internal views.
Floral Contemplations. The Duality of Vision
New Work by Mary Ahern
May 17 – June 17, 2018
Galleries Open to the Public Thursdays – Sundays 11 am until 4 pm
Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Historic Manor House
440 Montauk Highway
Great River NY 11739
Opening reception: May 20, 2018 1 pm until 4 pm. All Welcome!
Although my stretched store-bought cotton canvas is already prepared with gesso, I add 3 more layers with a light sanding in between each. This makes the canvas less absorbent in my opinion. Everyone has their own recipe and this is mine. I apply the gesso with a roller if the canvas is big or a large brush if it is smaller.
Once the gesso is dry, which is within the hour of the last coating, I use vine charcoal to outline my composition. Because the charcoal is rather dusty, I blow the excess off using either my breath or an aerosol can of dust remover depending on the size of the canvas.
Next, I then use a thin wash of burnt umber paint and a thinner medium to cover the rough charcoal drawing and begin the shading process. This also fixes the drawing to the canvas & prevents the charcoal from blending further. That layer will dry, depending on the medium you choose, in an hour or a day. I then begin another coat of underpainting using either a warm or cool brown or gray base color. This can either be considered an underpainting or if more detailed and finished it would be called a grisaille. Over an underpainting, I would paint using opaque pigments and over a grisaille, I would be using transparent pigments for glazing.
Once this is dry in 1-4 days depending on the mediums used, I then begin painting with color. This is the very classical beginning to an oil painting that I was taught by my professors during my college years in another place and another time. I’ve always been glad that I was able to receive a formal Art education and it has been the basis of all my work over the years.
So what do I find as I’m strolling past the senior buffet at Costco but this glass jar filled with joyously bulging and ready to bloom tulips. They just tossed themselves into my cart and begged to be taken home. And home they came.
As the bursting buds thrust themselves open I knew they needed to continue their job of bringing color and joy to my winter and to my spring, my summer and fall. The thrill of painting flowers is that you get to immortalize them before they disappear into their own winter of lifeless existence.
So many paintings came to mind as I watched the tulips unfurl. But which would be my composition. Closed or open? Silhouette or frontal? One or many? Natural sunshine or artificial light? Solid or textured background? Large or small?
So I played with the tulips. Wallowing in their beauty. They seeped into my soul and brought the winter to an end for me.
Being an Artist allows me to create my own reality, my own season, my own vision of how I view the normal. It brings comfort to my soul.
Costco Tulips dancing in my living room in the winter sunlight.
Being an Artist allows me to create my own reality, my own season, my own vision of how I view the normal. It brings comfort to my soul.
My muse, is my garden. Other gardens as well, but my garden in particular. I move in it, feel it, and hear the breezes whisper through it. I watch the lighting during the day as it slides over and around the textured surfaces.
These Fire Flame Peonies bloom in my garden each year in May at the same time as the color matching azalea.
Lighting so different on days with sun and with clouds. Lighting in the spring with the bright yellow greens of optimistic new growth and lighting by the fall with ambers & tans of a lived life. Morning light offers tender ambiance while afternoon colors not only light the scene from a different direction, the colors are deeper and warmer.
My garden brings consciousness and meaning to me. It keeps me grounded. The ephemeral beauty of an unfertilized blossom studied up close with magnifiers and macro lenses is a representation of a miracle. The world of possibility. The beginning of a story I represent in my Art. I walk through my garden gathering ideas. Stories I want to tell. Suggested ideas I want to convey.
In my garden I spend time designing the landscape or I spend time closely and intimately with a singular specimen at a particular stage of growth. In my studio I may paint a vignette or a full landscape view of a part of the garden I’ve designed, or I may choose to paint a small portion of one flower that has moved me. The minute miracle. This is my work. Outdoors and indoors. These are the stories I tell. This is my Art.
In my late summer garden this dramatic combination of colors occurs when the daylillies bloom amongst the rudbeckia. The cultivar name is Frans Hals daylily so how could I not fall in love with it given my Dutch heritage. The rudbeckia is the classic variety named Rudbeckia fulgida and multiplies happily in this garden setting.
I composed this painting in a classical pyramidal style for the daylilies then using the receding rudbeckia to open the space towards the background of trees and shrubs serving as a horizontal and vertical balance.
Frans Hals Daylilies with Rudbeckia 24×36″ Mixed Media on Canvas.
The aspect ratio of a painting is the relationship between the height and width of the finished piece. In painting the most common aspect ratio has been 3:4.
Dancing Iris Trio. Mixed Media Painting available in 30×40″ and 18×24″, Standard or Gallery Wrapped.
This means that for every 3 inches in the horizontal/vertical, there would be 4 inches in the other direction. An example would be a 30” by 40” painting. By reducing the size but maintaining the same 3:4 aspect ratio relationship you would have an18x24”, 12×16” or a 9×12” painting.
The aspect ratio remains the same regardless of whether an art work is hung in a horizontal or vertical direction.
This 4:3 aspect ratio is visually comfortable for most viewers and replicates the standard television format that was used until recently. With the advent of HD TV, the standards have changed to a longer screen and a 16:9 ratio is now the flat screen TV norm. This changes the shape or aspect ratio of the rectangle that is viewed by most people on a regular basis.
Pansy Field. Mixed Media Painting. Available in 24×36″, 20×30″ and 16×24″ Standard or Gallery Wrapped
This change in aspect ratio is also reflected in digital photography and in paintings. This new TV standard has increased the popularity of the longer 2:3 ratio. The new sizes in paintings would represent: 8×12”, 12×18”, 16×24”, 20×30”, 24×36”, 28×42” and 30×45”.
Framers use these standard sizes for many of their ready-made frames which is a cost saving to the Art Collector.
I create all my paintings in standard sizes so custom framing is not necessary
Here is a video which I originally created in July of 2013 of how I prepare prints for display and sale at outdoor art festivals .
I took these video clips in my studio as I prepared for the Northport Art in the Park hosted by the Northport Arts Coalition.
I used a Canon Power Shot SD3500 IS Digital ELPH, holding it in one hand and demonstrating with the other. I used the audio from the camera which is muffled at times since I put my finger over the microphone. I originally started with 18 minutes of video clips and brought it down to about 4:15.
I edited in iMovie with the end credits created in Photoshop.
Fun little project which I wish I’d given myself more time to perfect but there are always choices to be made. Time being the one thing I can’t seem to stretch.
I happily took the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station to then walk to Chelsea in NYC from my perch in Northport Long Island. This venture, on a cold winter day, was to gather in the brilliant colors and environments of the watercolor paintings created by the Artist, Joseph Raffael. These large-scale works envelop you into the tropical gardens and seaside shells which are the models and subjects of his work.
Some feature strongly defined focal points while other subjects are diffused, allowing you to meander through the tangles of flowers, leaves and stems. Koi provide the pivotal “Turning Point” between the water and air while leaving ripples which you know will be gone again in moments. Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze sharing the brilliance of Koi colors. Time, movement and transience are significant subjects in these meditative paintings.
“THE WORK OF FOUR EXTRAORDINARY ARTISTS EACH ONE FOCUSING ON THE UNIQUE AND VARIED WAYS THAT COLOR LIVES IN OUR LIVES”
– William Grabowski – Curator
March 26 – June 17, 2013 Art-trium Gallery. 25 Melville Park Rd, Melville NY 11747
Friday, April 5, 2013. 5:30 – 7:00 pm With music performance by Sally Shorrock and Friends
This Show is Sponsored by the Huntington Arts Council
SOME OF THE MIXED MEDIA PAINTINGS ON VIEW by the Artist, Mary Ahern
“Light Blue Iris in the Garden”
I grew these delightful light blue Iris germanica in my garden one year but they sadly haven’t come back with such beauty since. Iris borers and not enough sun perhaps. I solve this ephemeral behavior by painting the flowers from my garden. No pesticides, no fungicides, no weeding, no deadheading. They are in perfect condition all year round.
“Lilies in the Garden”
As a gardener and an Artist I’ve been able to combine both of these passions.Though my garden has been featured on various Garden Tours, I guarantee that it doesn’t look as good as the fantasy garden in this painting.
“Siberian Iris Trio”
A small patch of these Siberian Irises were in the garden when I bought my home in 1989. They are short lived during the season but very long lived over the years.
“Daylilies and Rudbeckia”
I paired this combination of flowers on my canvas for the their jovial and robust colors. Noticing their form, color and bloom time I transplanted them to create a seasonal vignette in my late summer garden as well.
“Conversation Piece Azalea”
These multi-colored flowers all bloom on the same shrub in my garden collection. Another nice thing about this cultivar is that it blooms a bit later than other Azaleas, thereby extended the colorful season.
MY ART BLOG
I wrote an article on my Art Blog recently describing how subconsciously I was influenced by the famous Matisse painting, “The Dance.”
Studying Art History for decades seeps into your creative mind and emerges in ways that you don’t expect. Though I majored in Art in college, it’s the years of continuing pursuit that really make the subtle and not so subtle differences in an Artist’s work.
MY ARTIST STATEMENT
My Art is driven by the pursuit of multiple passions. In my garden I grow the delicate & ephemeral models which are the subjects of my paintings. I transform them through a complex series of digital technologies and traditional mediums.
I have a degree in horticulture, a degree in Fine Arts and my entire career has been spent in Digital Imaging technologies. These are the tools I use to create my Art.
Creating and reinventing my gardens larger than life size demonstrates the profound importance they play in my own personal centering.
Studying Art History seeps into your memory. Countless visits to the many museums and galleries that New York City has to offer has crept into my subconscious. This lifelong study has taken me through so many happy surprises as well as quite a number of dead ends.
Often Artists are asked who their influences have been for their Art style. Trust me, never would I have answered Matisse. I’ve never appreciated his sketchy use of paint, his lack of detail and apparent lack of a “finished” quality to his work.
And then, when I least expected it, I reimagined Matisse’s iconic painting, “The Dance”. Using flowers from my own garden, I picked up the exuberant rhythm that makes his work such a delight. This work is so light, buoyant and a wonderful interpretation of what spring means to me.
As I was creating the composition of Irises I remember somewhere, behind my eyes, trying to make the circular floating connections of the frilly irises that was suspended somewhere in my memory. I have stood so often in front of the Matisse painting at the Museum of Modern Art, loving the composition while not liking the paint quality. I’ve returned so often to view that painting in the original hoping to find what I missed.
I absorbed his painting just by being there and looking. And looking again. And again…
“…man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world…” Ralph Waldo Emerson
My paintings actually start in my garden. This is where I grow the flowers, shrubs and trees, which are a part of the workflow of my creative output. The sun and shade play a role in all my compositions.
I actually consider the creative work to be seamless whether at work in the garden or at work in my studios. The up close and personal view of the flowers when I’m weeding, deadheading, trimming and tending allow me the time to become intimately aware of each flower’s details. This is something I like to convey in my work.
Light Blue Iris Germanica
These light blue irises came to dance in the breezes in the front garden, which I can see through the French doors in my living room. Though short lived, their ephemeral character is part of the fun of capturing them in my Art.
Phlox stolonifera, ‘Sherwood Purple’ in front of a Karume azalea in the woodland walks.
The composition of this painting was created using elements from different areas of my garden. The woodland walks with their large hemlock trunks for the vertical accents, which mimic the verticals of the irises. The rare spots of sunshine in the front garden, which hold the irises and many other perennial sun lovers, give me many sources of inspiration during the seasons.