Towards Abstraction

Having lived more years abroad than at home, the local flora often elicits surprise. Many plants that I am familiar with as potted plants living inside - reside outside here and are much much larger, sometimes unrecognizably so. They are large shrubs and trees, the scale of their parts defy recognition until, oh, wow. Recognition is also less immediate because they are less solitary, not just one plant in a pot but filling up half of a small border.

Take the Sansevieria for example. It's not uncommon to see this planted in pots here too, but they are occasionally let loose in a border mixed with other plants and in that context, they do something quite different visually. They become less sculptural and more like bold gestures on a canvas. Maybe it's the characteristics that help them thrive in the topics that create these visual textures. The foliage here is more rigid, leathery, more deliberate than the herbacious, lacier, kinds found in a temperate garden. Squint your eyes and blur them and you’ll see not an impressionistic Monet or Childe Hassam but an expressionistic De Kooning.

There is a small garden bed that I often see, bound within concrete walls where I took the above photos. There is a mass of purple Rhoeo Discolor, like brushstrokes of green and purple paint edged in fuschia where the sun catches it. A clump of Sanseveria looks like scrapes of a palette knife, gray greens shot with bright yellow. Both have a backdrop of Heliconia leaves, smooth painted areas with flurries of lines created by their stalks. All three have leaves that have begun to decay, but interestingly don’t seem as obviously dead or dying perhaps, due to their said characteristics, only broadening the palette by providing more yellows, oranges and browns.

Everytime I walk by ‘my’ abstract painting garden, I imagine filling the empty spaces with more daubs and strokes of botanic paint. I wonder what a small clump of black bamboo might do visually in the far back corner and some bold strokes of blue green aloe in the front. It’s odd that I’m nurturing a garden design here in my head, so different visually from the kinds I’ve been actively involved with all these years although it seems fitting that the aesthetic roots of these ideas are from my old home, New York City.

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