Contrary to popular belief, men most certainly do paint florals, and the proof is on view at the Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden.
The show, “Four Men — Four Botanicals,” highlights work by four acclaimed artists who live or work in New Hampshire: Sean Beavers, David Carroll, Patrick McCay and Zdzislaw Sikora. Together, they scrap the idea that floral painting is for “retired CIA agents or housewives,” in Sikora’s words, and demonstrate the various ways flowers can be used in art.
The idea for the exhibition, which is on view through Aug. 24, came about during a conversation McCay had with Pamela Tarbell, the owner and curator of the Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden. McCay is under contract with Mill Brook and shows his work there regularly.
“What she was saying, which I thought was interesting, was that male artists don’t usually paint flowers. I said, that’s just not true!” McCay said in an interview at his office at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.
Originally from Scotland, McCay has spent the past 10 years helping to build NHIA and is currently the senior faculty fellow and chairperson of fine arts. He recently went on sabbatical to paint his favorite New Hampshire icons — moose, deer, outdoor landscapes and, you guessed it, florals — but in his paintings, these icons are scattered about whimsically.
He pointed Tarbell to his own work, and to NHIA professors Sikora and Beavers, who are also men and who also paint flowers.
“I said to her, ‘You should do a show with men and flowers, something silly like that.’ She thought it was a great idea,” McCay said.
“Four Men — Four Botanicals” went up in the indoor gallery June 6, just a few weeks before Mill Brook’s summer-long outdoor sculpture exhibition (which starts June 22). Tarbell felt quite pleased she was able to snag work by these four artists for this single event.
“These guys represent some of the best male painters in New Hampshire right now,” Tarbell said in a phone interview. “We’re lucky to have all four of them here.”
The result is a diverse show.
“What links the works here is that there’s a certain level of testosterone, and that, in one way or another, we’re doing florals,” Sikora said. “I’m really interested in seeing how they look together.”
Sikora’s pieces are prints. The NHIA associate dean began creating floral art about 15 years ago, and many of his pieces are dark and edgy.
McCay’s paintings on view are abstract in form, while Beavers, whom his NHIA colleagues call a “painting machine,” produced work that’s bright and realistic; “Luna Flores,” a gathering of white hydrangeas under a starry sky, and “Caught in the Light,” a still life of pink florals cinched in recycled brown bottles, could be mistaken for photographs.
David Carroll of Warner, the fourth artist, used the exhibition as an excuse to revisit older work.
“My wife went into my archives and found a really nice start of a marsh marigold that I didn’t remember I’d done. It might have been from 1972,” said Carroll, who in 2006 was named a McArthur Foundation Fellow. “I had another piece from 1982, a water lily, and even though I painted on good-quality paper, it became flocked, so I painted it again.”
Carroll is inspired by Japanese screen painters and early botanical work, and he says you can see this influence in his paintings. He’s also painted natural history art to illustrate his five published books, including The Year of the Turtle, Trout Reflections and Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2009.
While Carroll is also known for his fieldwork and contributions to scientific journals and conservation publications, he says the watercolors in the show are decorative, if still very accurate — the wetlands, turtles and plants are all tokens of his own personal iconography. Only one of his paintings, “Unfolding Rose,” has a more modern, cubist feel.
Even with the show’s twists and turns on floral art, Carroll thinks there will still be something very traditional in feel.
“It’s not something you’re going to change, the world of floral painting,” Carroll said. “That kind of floral art has been a major part of many traditions, from Indian miniature paintings to the Renaissance and beyond.”
As seen in the June 12, 2014 issue of the Hippo.