In full bloom
Serious subject matter? Who cares? Flowers are beautiful; paintings are beautiful, usually, well, sometimes. Anyway, Las Vegas artist Mary Warner’s exhibition Bloom shows that she knows how to make stunning paintings of humble flowers.
The Installation Gallery at Nevada Museum of Art houses Warner’s works, nine to be exact, in the relaxing atmosphere of this off-square room with a tiny skylight. All pictures presented but two were rendered in paint.
The Digitals: These two are printed approximately 6 feet long and are digital impressions of floral forms created with gouache paint, a scanner, and photo prints exposed by the sun. Intuitively abstracted, they’re then patterned evenly across the finished surface. Colorful and slick, they’re just not paintings, and Warner is such a skilled floral painter that I found the museum’s decision to include these digital prints injurious to the power of the show. I’ve seen comparable works coming from desktop monitors of much lesser artists. They are just not inspiring—too generic.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can focus on more amiable things, like the enjoyment the seven remaining works give the viewer. Their execution in paint is heavy to soft, sketchy to tight. The paintings play off each other in three distinct styles grouped as follows:
The Oils: “I have a physical reaction to color, the subtlety, the intensity,” says Warner by phone regarding the sharply contrasting hues that electrify the two oil paintings. “I find that colors are relative.”
Chartreuse/Mums is painted with a buttery textured background floral pattern in yellow/green that’s flat in detail but highly sculptured in paint—i.e., a sweet goopiness. The mums hover in front of the patterning in a cool, realistic manner. It’s a sharp and acidic painting.
Spider Mum is a horizontal painting of warmer hues that rests right between the worlds of realism and pattern. Lavenders and pinks give way to the hot orange/coral that colors a large shadow of a mum behind the main bloom. Behind the heated shape is a vine pattern that eventually ventures into pure abstract blocks. The vines are used to good effect as one goes from a light pink to almost white, and the other reaches from maroon to almost black. The color makes it the most exciting painting in the show. It’s also very dynamic and moves the eye comfortably around the canvas, which is not a quality unique to this one. Many of the paintings are courageously moving.
The Atmospherics: Two paintings present a slightly more somber palette. One is an untitled painting of small size, and a larger version called In the Garden captures the smoky volume of air that viewers are to believe lies behind the blooms. Our eyes delve right into unknown space and start to notice bugs and details that sustain an “implied narrative,” according to Warner. “I’m interested in a free association, not a specific story,” she says. But the bugs, she says, bring in more ideas of “what the universe has to tell us.”
The Studies: Pastel on paper, the studies remind us of practice. These three works continue the insight into Warner’s view of herself as a lifelong student. Close to retirement, this UNLV associate professor likens her work to that of the Renaissance and Baroque period.
It’s an appreciated inclusion to the show, since Warner’s studies are less formal painting and more Leonardo’s sketchbook. A personal look into masterful rendering and humbling accuracy.