The power of realism in art is its role as a visual language. In the information-saturated, digital age we live in, some will regard realism as being lesser than other art forms because of its lack of creativity since you know…”they’re just copying what’s there” and we can all do that with our smartphones. I strongly disagree with this view because of my personal discovery of the realism art genre. So why does realism gain my full support? Frederick Ross said it best at the Artists Keynote Address to Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists, “Thus Realism is a universal language that enables communication with all people and to people of all times…past…present…and future”. I’m very excited to introduce you to Deborah Bigeleisen, a talented artist who’s found her muse in flowers.
SD: Your intent to draw the viewer in to “stop and smell the flowers” is understood by your large-scale works, but why your choice of flowers as your muse? How does this subject matter speak to you?
DB: I have been captivated by nature since childhood, and specifically drawn to flowers for their majesty and the infinite variety. To me their beauty is breathtaking. Though I was not aware of it at the time, when I chose to go into textile design as my [first] career because of my interest in color, pattern, and design, I learned that floral motifs were the cornerstone of both the fashion and home decorative industries. During my nine years of working as a stylist for textile companies, floral prints, purchased principally from European design houses, were my biggest sellers. Then I pioneered my own global print design company, not only representing some of the finest international design houses that I used to but prints from, but also establishing a private label line that consisted almost entirely of floral prints. Regardless of what other trends were in fashion, floral prints outsold everything else. My company became the ‘go to’ resource for floral prints – how flattering when your competition sends buyers to you!
So, to say the least, after so many years, flowers were in my DNA.
In 1998, when I closed the company and moved to Florida I was anxious to get into oil painting since I did not have a traditional fine art education. Instinctively, I gravitated to flowers. Although I tested the waters with other subjects, I kept going back to flowers. The other subjects did not ‘speak’ to me the same way, they did not hold my interest.
Among the many serendipitous events to impact my art career, an early occurrence came at the request of the first art dealer to represent my work – she asked me if I could do white roses. It was at this point that the teacher I was studying with introduced me to the painting techniques of the Dutch master artists. He knew (before I even realized) that I had the patience, the temperament, and apparently the talent to apply the labor intensive process, which included many translucent layers of glazing, to capture their fragility and essence. The first three white roses that I delivered to the gallery sold in ten days! What great motivation to do more! Upon showing the paintings to another mentor, before delivering them to the gallery, he recommended that I paint ten more white roses, and when those are done, paint thirty more! His intent was for me to establish an identity since most artists that paint nature tend to be ‘all over the place.’ He felt that I had created something very special, and that I brought a different voice to the genre of floral painting. I listened to him, and followed his advice.
I studied every aspect of white roses, how they bloom, how light passes through them – photographing them in daylight at different hours of the day, different angles of the sun, and in incandescent light (Duet 6). Let me say at this point, that I work exclusively from my own photographs, and have traveled to botanical gardens all over north America to photograph. Then I moved on to red roses, which presented a new challenge, – where light passes through white roses, red roses are opaque, they absorb light – so there were new problems to solve. Do you have any idea how many varieties and colors of roses there are (over 1000), and the different characteristics as the bloom! Then I started studying gardenias which have a totally different movement and character. The exploration into each flower is a wonderful journey.
Flowers continue to fascinate me – their beauty, energy, dynamics, and mystery. My inspiration is limitless. There are always new discoveries and challenges, and that’s what keeps it exciting for me. What changes and evolves is my vision and my techniques, though the foundation is still rooted in the style of the Dutch master artists.
SD: Although your Multiple Perspectives series at first glance appears as a micro view of a flower, upon further dissection, the viewer discovers the abstraction in those forms. Do you view this series as playing with perspective in a neo-cubism type of way or perhaps a completely different genre all together?
Movement and rhythm are essential elements of my work; neo-Cubism, as its name implies, is the opposite of that. The similarity is that both styles deal with viewing an object from multiple perspectives. This work is the evolution of my research on fractals, so it is much more scientifically based as opposed to having its roots in earlier periods or schools of art. I credit that research for transforming my artistic vision – my subject was no longer ‘simply’ a flower.
The laymen’s definition of a fractal is the ‘self-repeating properties found within a single object of nature when viewed at every level of magnification.’ (picture a head of broccoli). By stripping away the exterior of the form and magnifying a flower to depths beyond what the naked eye could see, I discovered a dynamic universe where the patterns repeat themselves in multiple phenomena; it was those discoveries that I wanted to explore and convey through my art. In addition to capturing and immortalizing an element of nature at a single moment in its life cycle, I wanted to initiate a fresh discussion about science and aesthetics with my audience.
With the fractals being responsible for changing how I looked at a flower, it was another serendipitous event that inspired the Multiple Perspectives “Untitled” series. I had been given a bouquet of what appeared to be ‘ordinary’ lilies. As the lilies died I was captivated by the irregular and asymmetrical curling properties of the petals. As I discovered after extensive research of lilies, those were not ordinary lilies – most lilies decay in a very symmetrical pattern; and it became quite a challenge to obtain more lilies – which involved working with growers in California. Untitled No. 1 was just the beginning of numerous variations and interpretations of the forms.
Untitled No. 26 has particular importance because I had another breakthrough. Though I had done earlier diptychs in this series I had a visual concept at the onset for the finished painting. I did not have the vision of a butterfly at the onset of No. 26, I was still looking at the individual forms. Its genesis evolved from duplicating the images and reorganizing them in multiple orientations – a subliminal impact from the core principles of fractals. The butterfly is the symbol of Chaos Theory, of which fractals are a significant component. In the science arena, the butterfly represents the phenomenon known as “the butterfly effect” – where small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes. No. 26 was my ‘butterfly effect.’ It represented a break-through in my creative process, giving even more depth to my vision, both in the development process and in the painting process. Since finishing No. 26, I’m looking at every painting from multiple perspectives.
SD: Some of your more abstract paintings are dream-like and surreal, do you have a specific intent for what you’d like your viewers to imagine or feel? Is your work more open to their own interpretations instead?
Titles are very subjective. I have seen works that I absolutely loved, then after seeing the artist’s title which was filled with so much negativity, I was totally turned off the piece.
I chose not to title the Multiple Perspectives work. Because the paintings take on numerous interpretations, I did not want to impart any preconceived ideas in the mind of the viewer. In addition, because color is also very subjective, I worked extensively in a neutral palette for the Fractals and the Multiple Perspectives to challenge not only my own senses, but also to challenge the viewers’ imagination and emotions. In some of the works I juxtaposed colors from one natural phenomena to another – such as using aquatic blues for an abstracted view of a lily petal or for a macro view of gardenia – both of which ‘might suggest’ the movement of water.
I want my work to disrupt the status quo. In this digitally driven, short attention span, instant gratification culture that we live in I am asking viewers to put down their devices, to take the time to pause and look at the world around them, to see and question more than meets the eye.
SD: What other artists living or deceased would you love to collaborate with or study under?
WOW! interestingly, no one has ever asked me that question. So, here goes:
Rembrandt, because his techniques had such a major impact on my work;
Leonardo da Vinci because of the visionary that he was;
Vincent Van Gogh because I love his colors and the energy in his paintings;
Paul Gauguin because I love his sense of color and the richness of his tones:
Tom Hopkins ( Canadian d. 2011) because I love the mood of his work. His use of color is exceptional, and his application of paint is astonishing. (You really need to see Tom’s work in person. Photos do not begin to capture the depth of his work);
Jenny Saville (b. 1970), though I intensely dislike the subjects of her ginormous paintings, her application of paint and her sense of color are extraordinary. I am also captivated with her medium sized portrait work, whether in charcoal or painted, because of the animation she gives to her subject/s. I’m drawn to the ‘multiple perspectives’ of the figures that she captures within a single picture.
Gordon Parks, because was a visionary, and incredibly talented in so many areas
SD: What excites you at this time about the art you’re creating now or wish to create in the future?
The excitement for me is always looking for a new challenge – not only for fresh ways of interpreting flowers and capturing the essence of life, but also continually expanding my mind – I never know where that next ‘thing’ will spark my imagination.
In the early days of my career, after creating more than 60 variations and compositions of portraits of white roses I felt that I had given the subject everything I could. I had to a find a new perspective.
At first, I moved in for more close up views; then I transitioned thorough various magnifications ultimately evolving to the conceptual work with its foundation in the principles of fractals. Theses abstract realities were the serendipitous outcome of showing my art to a relative, who is a physician, who mentioned that the macro views reminded him of fractals. Never having heard the term before, I delved into extensive research – wanting to understand what he saw. This was not a concept to be grasped in an hour! The research was fun because it took me way outside my comfort zone. The principles are rooted in mathematics which definitely is not my strong suit. I was surprised by the fact that I was grasping the concepts. And the exciting part was that it gave me a totally new way of looking at my subject – my vision was truly was transformed.
Whether exploring the innermost depths of a flower, or the forms in the curling petals of a dying lily, my more abstracted visions – these ‘multiple perspective’ views presented a new problem. Because there was so little information in the composition, essentially just large forms, I had to find a new way to make the paintings interesting, because I did not have all the petals with shadows and highlights to play against one another as in the more realistic work. This gave birth to more expression and emotion in my brush strokes; and gave a new voice all my work.
As for my latest challenge, currently I’ve gone in a completely opposite direction, exploring the unemotional genres of Pop art and hyper-realism. This is really a new venture for me because I have never attempted to adapt my work to a particular style of art. This work is also particularly difficult for me because movement, depth, and emotion are such integral components of my work. Pop art and hyper-realism are cold, they have no life.
What’s next? For me, the creative process is fun and unpredictable. Not having a set road map opens the door for spontaneity and makes my work that much more exciting. As I’ve mentioned, I have had so many unexpected events impact my art career. In my studio I’m surrounded by notes with ideas and concepts. Sometimes it’s going back through my visual reference and finding something that I played with at one point, and put aside, all of sudden looks fresh – or sparks an idea. As outside influences enter our sphere, as our experiences broaden, we often see things we’ve seen before with a new perspective. I cherish the unexpected, the unpredictability, and the unknown.