Exhibit flowers at DAC
Art Library hosts Gisele Conn’s ‘La Flor’

‘Golden Touch Heliconia,’ a watercolor by Gloria Conn. The flower paintings of Conn, reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s, are on display in the Durango Arts Center Art Library.

by Jules Masterjohn

When viewing paintings of flowers, especially close-up renditions of colorful blooms and their inner parts, Georgia O’Keeffe springs immediately to mind. In her controversial flower paintings, O’Keeffe’s drew attention to the tiniest of botanical anatomy – a flower’s reproductive system. When these works were first displayed in 1924, some viewers and critics were shocked, believing that she was using the flower’s male and female parts as a metaphor for human sexuality. She refuted these claims until her death at age 99, remarking that if people saw them as sexual, “they were talking about their own selves,” not O’Keeffe. Rather, she stated, “When you take a flower into your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.”

Artist Gisele Conn possesses a similar desire to share what she sees when looking closely at lovely blooms. Her solo show at the Durango Arts Center’s Art Library, “La Flor,” is a display of 11 watercolors of flowers. One of the paintings, in particular, is reminiscent of O’Keeffe’s surrealistic images of flowers and bones hovering above the landscape, high in the New Mexico sky. Conn’s large painting “Flamboyant” employs similar compositional elements. A radial burst of red – the exotic flame tree blossom – floats in a wash of hazy blue and green, suggesting a verdant landscape below. All the details of the delicate inner flower parts are skillfully painted, and the use of complementary colors and high contrast make this painting attractive to the eye.

Conn reports in her artist statement, “It took four years of annual trips to Puerto Rico to discover that the elusive cream-colored petal of the scarlet flower opens only when hit directly by the sun.” With this knowledge in mind and camera in hand, one day at high noon, she snapped the photo of the flower featured in “Flamboyant.” Born and raised in Puerto Rico, now living in Denver, Conn draws inspiration from her yearly visits to the Botanical Gardens at the University of Puerto Rico, her alma mater, and to El Yunque National Forest.

The paintings in La Flor are loving renditions of botanical species. Some commonly grow in our latitude such as tulips and roses, while others make their habitat closer to the equator like the hibiscus, red ginger, canna, allamanda and bougainvilla. Short statements that accompany each work offer insight into Conn’s intention as an artist. For her, emotion and beauty motivate her to paint. An underlying connection to her subject is central to many paintings, as in “Red Rose.”

‘Flamboyant,’ Conn’s depiction of a flame tree blossom

“Red Rose” (Rosa Roja) is a small still life that pictures a rose and a porcelain plate that the artist gave to her grandmother when she was a young girl. Conn chose a shimmering fabric as its backdrop, one that projects a soft, prismatic light array. The fabric makes reference to her grandmother’s artistic expression as a seamstress. “She was an extraordinary woman, visionary, teacher full of wisdom and love.” Reading Conn’s statement helped me to understand this painting as a memorial to her grandmother.

“Golden Touch Heliconia,” though much smaller in size, competes with “Flamboyant” as the boldest painting in the show. We might know the heloconia as a false bird-of-paradise and as the quintessential image of an exotic flower. In the painting, a recognizable yellow

I liked that in the presentation of “Red Ginger,” the artist chose to let the thick watercolor paper hang freely within the frame instead of trapping it behind a mat. Though the latter is a standard practice for mounting works on paper, Conn’s choice seems better: it works to conceptually unify the medium with its framing. Watercolor is difficult to master due to its flowing nature. By floating the paper (and image) on the surface of the framed work, the immediacy of the medium is reinforced.

Conn has taken the path of many artists who are trying to place their images in the hands of appreciators by offering the work in a variety of formats and prices. Though none of the original paintings in the gallery are for sale, affordable reproductions are available in the DAC Gallery Shop. She also has created a line of greeting cards copied from the originals. Conn’s comfortable, well-made images will seem familiar to many who enjoy flowers, color and a well-structured composition.

“The lure of color and light led me to watercolor. Behind the beautiful fluid colors lies my first love, drawing, without which there would be no structure or form,” Conn offered in her artist statement. “Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with the concept of creating, a thought process that has taken me on one journey or another. I was blessed with mentors who encouraged me to persevere no matter what the obstacles.” •

Gisele Conn’s paintings are on display through June in the Art Library, upstairs at the Durango Arts Center, 802 E. 2nd Ave.



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