Undercurrent: Local artists capture the fleeting beauty of flowers

You’re reading the July 8, 2021 edition of the Undercurrent, the arts and culture newsletter from Peterborough Currents. To receive our email newsletters straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning, and welcome to the Undercurrent. With summer at its peak, I’ve been enjoying the bursts of colour that have sprung up around town, as various species of wildflower bloom one after the other.

So … for today’s issue of the Undercurrent, I’m checking in with three local painters who are also drawn to flowers. Let’s get to it!

Shannon Taylor: Painting flowers, “I’m in my happy place”

Shannon Taylor is a Peterborough-based artist who paints a variety of subjects, but she returns to flowers again and again, often picking them from her garden to paint.

When Taylor paints flowers from still life, she says she enters a “meditative” frame of mind. “There’s something so lovely about grabbing a bunch of flowers and just sitting and staring at them,” she says. “It’s a switching off of the rest of my brain.”

When she’s not painting flowers, Taylor is drawn to scenes of rural or small-town life, and she often renders these through a grey haze of unease and nostalgia.

“[My] landscapes can be a little bit bleak,” she says. So, in her flower paintings, Taylor trades that bleak aesthetic for bright, cheery colours.

“It just makes me happy to do them,” she says. “They have a sweetness, a whimsical look.”

Taylor says that more and more people have been responding positively to her flower paintings recently, a trend she attributes to the otherwise anxious period we’re living through with the pandemic. “I’ve been doing quite a number of flowers and selling quite a number recently.”

Beth LeBlonc: Unlocking the colours of the garden

We featured Beth LeBlonc’s paintings in an earlier issue of the Undercurrent.

LeBlonc says that in the summertime, she typically paints a little less, choosing instead to focus on her other creative pursuit: naturally-dyeing fabrics. (LeBlonc studied fibre arts in addition to painting at the Haliburton School of the Arts.)

This summer, LeBlonc has been growing marigolds, cornflowers, black-eyed susans and other flowers in her backyard, and using them as a potent source of colour.

It’s a technique the artist first encountered during her studies in Haliburton. “When I first found out about natural dyeing, I was like, ‘Wow — why are we even dyeing anything with chemicals?’” LeBlonc recalls.

When I visited her back yard recently, LeBlonc walked me through her process. After prepping a fabric to receive new colour, she placed flowers on top of it, and then rolled the fabric into a bundle so the flowers were pressed tightly against it.

The bundle was steamed for a couple hours above a pot of boiling water. Then, when the bundle was cooled and unrolled, the flowers’ pigments had affixed themselves onto the fabric. 

As I watched LeBlonc work, she seemed to have an alchemist’s skill, coaxing hidden properties and colours out of her garden.

Flowers do not always dye the same colours as their petals, and their dye colours are influenced by factors such as recent rains and the pH level of the soil, LeBlonc told me. That makes unrolling a bundle an exciting event each time, because you can never be sure exactly what you’ll get. “It’s kind of like Christmas,” she said.

Her main focus is on flower dyes, but LeBlonc uses other natural colours as well. “Avocado pits will dye a pink,” she told me. “The Food Forest is going to help me out with my avocado supply this year.”

LeBlonc uses flowers to dye clothing, tea towels and more. You can browse her naturally-dyed products on her Etsy shop.

Tim Merrett: Still-life tradition

The last artist I’ll introduce you to is Tim Merrett, a painter who works out of a studio in the Commerce Building at the corner of Water and Hunter Streets.

Merrett “unabashedly appropriat[es] images from past masters” into his own work, according to his artist statement. In many cases, that means recreating for himself the floral still-life paintings of earlier eras.

“The act of painting flowers has been with us for some time, mastered by artists during the Dutch Golden Age” he says.

“Even though flowers and flower paintings have been expressions of wealth, [they] also remind us of our own mortality and the passing of time,” Merrett says, adding that they’re also “a source of contemplation and peace.”

Painting flowers is “extremely challenging, as they are mostly transparent, light in weight and can reflect light in very intriguing ways,” Merrett says. 

“Despite the fact that I have made hundreds of paintings, the challenge of appropriating floral paintings mostly from the 17th and 18th century is always an invigorating one.”

Merrett’s next exhibition will be at the Elaine Fleck Gallery in Toronto in November.

That’s all for this issue of the Undercurrent. Want to receive these emails straight to your inbox? Sign up here.


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