7/12/09 3:26 PM
Why have flowers been the favorite subject of still life painters for so long? An entire category of Dutch genre artists specialized in tulips, using them to symbolize the excesses of the economic craze of their time. Another category of Dutchmen used them as part of vanitas ensembles to allude to the fragility of life. Vincent Van Gogh had his insistently bright sunflowers, Odilon Redon his transcendent pastel bouquets, O’Keefe her sexually charged orchids. Today, Suzanne Edmiston Worrell has her own garden of blooms as inspiration, painting everything from red roses to white lilies to pink daisies. Her own reasoning for choosing flowers as subject—and subject they are, filling dozens and dozens of her canvases and drawings, in every medium and expressive style—seems to borrow nothing from the Dutch but much from the modernists mentioned above: Van Gogh’s work was driven in part by a need to tame his mental illness; Redon’s to manage his dark depressions; O’Keefe’s to express an independent sexuality muffled by the restrictive sexism of her era. Edmiston Worrell, for her part, discusses how painting flowers, which she considers “positive, good, and beautiful,” plays a role in helping her cope with her own mental disabilities. Apart from the tragic example of Van Gogh, she couldn’t be in better company.