Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Bouquet That's and Ode to Bohemian Living

The Arrangement: A loose collection of garden cuttings,
 such as the blue hydrangea and white peonies in this
arrangement, wouldn’t feel out of place in the domestic
 interior depicted in Robert Dash’s 1965 painting ‘Afternoon #2.’
 Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson for WSJ, Flower styling
 by Lindsey Taylor, prop styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart.
The Inspiration:  Robert Dash’s 1965 painting ‘Afternoon #2’
        Photo: Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, N.Y.
By Lindsey Taylor          

Had I been born in another generation, perhaps I would have tagged along with the committed bohemians who populated the East End of Long Island, N.Y., in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, when artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Jane Freilicher colonized the area.

Among those drawn to the area’s then-cheap historic homes, creative pursuits and unfrenzied mood was Robert W. Dash (1931-2013), an American painter, poet and gardener. In 1967, he bought a cluster of 18th- and 19th-century farm buildings in Sagaponack, where he would live and work until his death in 2013, painting landscapes of strawberry and potato fields along with scenes of quotidian life. He also experimented with plant combinations, colors and textures in his much-admired garden, which he named Madoo, an Old Scottish word that means “my dove.” (On June 19, the annual event “Much Ado About Madoo” opens there, showcasing works by Mr. Dash that will be on view over the summer.)

My jumping-off-point for this month’s arrangement, “Afternoon #2,” is a moody 60-by-60-inch canvas that I stared at fixedly in an exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, N.Y., last year. Painted in 1965, it depicts the interior of the Southampton home of Mr. Dash’s close friend, artist Fairfield Porter, where the two would often paint together.

Taking cues from the periwinkle walls in the painting, I started with seasonal, blue hydrangeas, then used pure white peonies and a hit of mountain laurel to represent the white and green patches that stretch from the blurry bouquet in the piece’s foreground to the verdant lawn seen through the window. Plum-colored drumstick alliums stand in for the table in the far room. For the vase, I found a cream-colored ironstone pitcher at a flea market, one I imagined Mr. Dash using to pour out some midcentury concoction. Off to one side, I dangled some clematis to emphasize the looseness I was going for.

In other words, nothing fancy or trying too hard, just easy gestures, as reflected in the varied heights of the flowers. I wanted the arrangement to feel like a casual assortment of garden cuttings, with a rhythm that might echo the improvisational.


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