Hitting pause on beauty

Karla Hayward
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Julie Duff’s ‘In Bloom’ opens today

There is a magic to flowers. Something that enchants everyone, even those with zero desire to garden. Their vibrancy, their ethereal nature, how fleeting their beauty. A flower can go from pure potential as a tightly bound bud, to head-bowed, energy spent and wilting in a single day.

When bought in the dead winter months, flowers are the ultimate indulgence, the supreme pick me up, a joy-inducing splurge.

And sure, some of you may say that the dozen red roses your colleague got on Valentine’s Day were cliché, but truth be told, you felt a little envy when they arrived.

Even in summer, when our gardens are lush and delicate blooms spar weeds for space in roadside ditches, flowers retain their preciousness.

Floral paintings, then, hold a special place for flower lovers. They allow the pause-button to be hit on a bloom; they stop time forever in a moment of perfect beauty.

Capturing that moment is what Julie Duff has done repeatedly with her show, “In Bloom,” opening today at the Peter Lewis Gallery in St. John’s. This is Duff’s first solo show, although her work has been previously featured in several group exhibitions. 19 works are on display, all of substantial size. They are, with one exception, close ups of individual or small groupings of blooms. (More on that one rouge work later.)

So why an (almost) all-botanical show? “When (the Peter Lewis Gallery) asked me to do a solo show, I had been painting mostly florals. It was spring, and then summer, so of course you’re surrounded by flowers.”

“They are just so beautiful,” Duff continues. “You see them everywhere. And the colours, they’re so vibrant and so varied. Like a rose; there are so many combinations that you can paint. You can’t even really duplicate the vibrancy of nature, but you can try … And I like idea of painting bright and bold.”

The artist says she also relishes the act of tackling flowers on the canvas. “They’re a challenge to paint ... And it’s more challenging to paint them close up because you have to really know the flower. The structure and detail … You just have to be a lot more specific than if you’re doing a still life, for instance, and it’s off in the distance.”

Duff started painting later in life than many people. She was a full-time accountant, and then, “All of a sudden, I really just wanted to paint. It’s hard to explain. I just wanted to do something fun,” she recounts. A few classes, and many hours in front of a canvas, and she was committed to her art. The happy results of which we now get to enjoy at her show.

There are many varieties in Duff’s show. In “The Last Rose of Summer” we peer almost straight down into the heart of the bloom, its petals executed in soft pink and peach tending to darker tones as they swirl toward the centre. Royalty feels both looser and more vibrant. The flower is asymmetrical, full of deeper reds kissed with yellow and white. A torn petal seems about to fall off, while right next to it, a bud looks ready to burst.

While many of the subjects were found in either Duff’s or her mother’s garden, some were found while traveling. One, in fact, isn’t a flower at all, but rather some somewhat lurid leaves. “Sea Grapes” is a collection of lily pad-like leaves, red and green and prominently veined. Duff says they grow on the beach in the southern latitudes. There’s also a gorgeous hibiscus, “Glowing Ember,” on which the light falls so directly the prominent stamen throws a perfectly detailed shadow onto the petals.

A couple of the more common, but no less lovely, petunias made their way onto the walls as well. Both “Red Radiance” and “Petunias of Passion” deliver on that punch of colour these flowers present in real life. There’s something reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s “Poppy” in the former, which makes sense, as Duff credits the artist as being an influence.

Two flowers that seem to be particular favourites of Duff’s are daises and sunflowers. “They’re so cheerful. They always look like they’re happy, you know?” she says, smiling.

Which brings us to the “one of these things is not like the others” piece. The work “Daisy” is not a flower. Daisy is in fact, a cow. She lives at Lester’s Farm and apparently charmed the heck out of Duff. “I love cows. They’re so prairie … I took this picture (of the cow) and I loved the way she looked at me. I just had to paint her!” J.J. Allwood, gallery curator, agrees. “We just love her. We had to include her.”

Duff says she is both excited and little nervous to launch her first solo show. “It’s going to be interesting.

“When you paint (the works) and then bring them to the framers, that’s it; you don’t see them again until the show. It’s so exciting to see them all framed and in a different environment. You’re like, ‘Oh they’re released! They’re all over the place. They’re exposed!’ It’s sort of funny. … It’s going to be strange to see them all in one room.”

Allwood is also excited for the show. “(Duff) has been a great addition! Here at the gallery, we try to make our work about uplifting colours and vibrancy. We’re trying to give people that punch of colour and life and so Julie’s artwork fits in perfectly. We’re so happy to have her, and we’re really looking forward to the show.”

In Bloom runs from Oct. 26 to Nov. 9 at Peter Lewis Gallery at 5 Church Hill. Everyone is invited to the opening being held 6:30-9 p.m. tonight.

Organizations: Church Hill

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