|Morris Louis’s 1954 painting, ’Intrigue’ |
Photo: © 2015 Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA),
Rights Administered by Artist Rights Society, New York,
All Rights Reserved/The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation/
Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson for WSJ,
Floral Styling by Lindsey Johnson, Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart
WSJ, Oct. 5, 2015
As fall weather creeps into the Northeast, the more vibrant flowers in our gardens wither away. I experience this less as a loss than as a seasonal shift that ushers in new colors and textures. Blond, bronzy and purple hues fill the sky thanks to the flower plumes on ornamental grasses. Late bloomers such as asters, cimicifugas and Japanese anenomes take over our beds. Hydrangea blossoms mellow into their autumn shades.
For this column, I typically pick a painting to serve as the inspiration for a flower arrangement, but this month, I found the flower first. I’m drawn to the colors of fading blooms, which gardeners lop off all too soon. Few let their flowers enter into senescence with grace. My studio, however, is littered with blossoms past their prime, crispy with desiccation but still rich in tone. Hydrangeas, for instance, mottle their way through many beautiful color phases as they age. In a certain blue macrophylla hydrangea, I saw similarities to the watery palette of American Color Field artist, Morris Louis (1912-1962).
With fellow artist Kenneth Noland, Mr. Morris formed what is known as the Washington Color School. After an early 1950s visit to artist Helen Frankenthaler’s studio in New York, where they admired her stain-painting technique, the two returned to D.C. and played with similar ideas. By pouring thinned pigment onto unprimed, unstretched canvas then manipulating the material, they found that colors took on an ethereal, translucent character.
I settled on Mr. Louis’s large 1954 canvas “Intrigue.” The blue hydrangeas, whose hues ranged from blue to purple in an ombre effect, already evoked the painting’s rich, layered tones, so once I placed them in an indigo glass vessel, they needed nothing more. I simply cut the stems short so the blooms would appear full, crowding over the vase’s rim. In a week, I will pour the water out, put the hydrangeas back in the vase, and watch them further change in form and tone—like a lady who understands the elegance of aging with dignity.