THE JOY OF SEEING WHAT A NONPAREIL OF FLORAL ARTISTS SEES by DIGBY RICCI.
The Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, famously said of Georgia O’Keeffe: “she sacramentalized everyday life”. It seems to me that all artists who meaningfully explore and celebrate nature must have a pantheistic element in them. Like Wordsworth, they must long for spiritual consolation within nature to make them “less forlorn”; like the mystical William Blake, they must see a “world in a grain of sand” and “Heaven in a wild flower”.
The successful depiction of nature’s beauties should humble viewers, for it should compel them to see the world differently – delighting in the intricacy of minutiae, and rejoicing in the harmony and grandeur of awe-inspiring vistas. The true artist will make us revel in both delicacy and splendour.
In a wonderful passage from her bestselling novel, “The Goldfinch”, Donna Tartt describes the “strange beauty” of seventeenth-century Dutch still lifes: “all the beauty and bloom” of “trompe l’oeils with crawling insects and striped flowers”. Tartt insightfully points out that there is always a little “speck of rot” within the most opulent of Dutch still lifes. There must be a touch of melancholy among the blooming vitality.
New Zealand’s pre-eminent floral artist, PAUL CONEY, possesses all the qualities that I have already enumerated. His large canvases give an aptly epic grandeur to the growth and radiance of the flowers he depicts. The bounty of the natural world is on display in gloriously heightened colour. The ruby reds and creamy whites of petals have a richness that allures; the water droplets really shimmer. However, in Coney’s works, no details, no matter how accentuated, become kitschy in the manner of Tretchikoff’s bruised blossoms or tear-like water drops. Coney’s intensified realism is more akin to that of the admittedly far more austere Andrew Wyeth, whose artistry insists that attention must be paid to every blade of grass in “Christina’s World”.
The touch of sorrow, of which Donna Tartt writes so memorably, is not absent from Coney’s creations. You will find his lushly spilling creepers and sumptuous blooms in mysterious, even slightly bleak settings: receding avenues, ruins, archways, and cold statuary frame his tributes to nature’s abundance. There is often a quality of mystery, even a slight ominousness, in his brightest works. This quality is particularly subtle and intriguing, purging his art of any tinge of excessive decorativeness.
Not that Paul Coney’s works fail in the beauty stakes. They are things of great beauty, and , of course, they are worthy to decorate any tasteful person’s home space! However, they are much more than ornamental. Coney is as much a master of the eye-catching power of the curve as was O’Keeffe, an obvious influence, who was dubbed “the Lady of the Curve”; he exploits brightness, without ever becoming garish; he is much more than naturalistic, but never toys with inappropriate abstraction. In short, he is the nonpareil of contemporary floral artists. Like O’ Keeffe , who crowed , “I made you see what I see”, Paul Coney makes all of us share his unique vision of the natural world, and what a joy it is to do so!