In Which I Visit Two of the “Gardens on Orchard”

Lesley Heller Workspace 7/12 -8/18, Freight and Volume, 7/8-9/3,2017


F&V, Neil Welliver, “Study for Low Water Knights Flowage”, 1980


The reason I’m such an optimist about this whole climate change business is that at a particularly low point, I took “Botany for Horticulturalists” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (and the rest of the horticultural certificate courses too, except for Pest Management).

There I relearned that all of our oxygen and all of our food (all!) comes from plants. I also found out that gardeners and aspiring gardeners have a more positive outlook on the future than many artists seem to; they believe that plants can fix the earth, we just have to help them—that way we’ll be around, too.

So optimistically, but with a sense of urgency about the subject, I admit to being somewhat critical, but, hey, it’s summer and I love summer, even when it sizzles; here are some paintings I enjoyed looking at. The galleries are indicated at the end of the titles. LH for Lesley Heller, F&V for Freight and Volume.

Always a good day when I get to study a Welliver in person. This time I wondered if he was a little bit influenced by Paint-by-Number—the creamy semi-matte quality, the limited palette that gives the work coherency and perhaps enables him to work quickly. Welliver’s  is a layered coherency, though— he didn’t learn that from PBN. He has stated that he works from the top down; this painting seems to me to be painted from far to near, the gray-brown branches that crisscross the center and the reflected sky put in last. The dark band where the land meets the water in the center of this painting, I have no other words for it, it’s beautiful. Welliver has a sense of humor and a surprising way of talking about the way he works. See below for a link to an interview with David Denby.


F&V, Benjamin King, “Poppers”, 2017

Poppers draws the eye deep into the woods in a very simple way and creates the wonderful sense that I am foraging for mushrooms. Have you ever foraged? Once I found a pound of fiddleheads—it took me 3 hours to return triumphant, scratched and dirty. The next year, foraging in the same area, less than an hour for the same amount. It’s a learning process.


LH, Katia Santibanez, “A Permanent Space”, 2016

Well-fed, I might lay down among these primordial ferns, stare at the sky and speculate on why there are no plant drawings on the cave walls of Lascaux. An aide to identification and location of what must have constituted the bulk of their diet seems like it would have been most helpful.


LH, Judith Linhares, “Green Vase”, 2006

Linhares’ Green Vase like a straightforward, no-nonsense, unsentimental but deeply satisfying fuck.


LH, Catherine Howe, “Mica Painting—Sweet Pea”, 2016

Sweet Pea, like a sensual romp on a sunny day fueled by the fizzy fermented juice of the grape. I wish these last two had been hung side by side.

There doesn’t seem to be a sweet pea in this painting or an iris in Howe’s other piece so named. Only 7 of the 76 works include a plant name and then only in the most general way. Maybe they don’t know or don’t care, not that I’m saying they should.  It’s worth considering, though, the fine visual discrimination involved in telling one plant from another. It could be used to visually discriminate in other ways too,  and to understate—it is/was  a matter of survival.


F&V, Daniel Heidkamp, “Beast Bath”, 2012

This painting stayed in my mind for longer than I thought it would, particularly the intensity of the reflected sky in the birdbath and the idea of sitting in the garden for a while. I believe that’s a phlox in the very close foreground, by the way, and I think the chair is set up to admire the iris. Heidkamp may be a gardener.


LH, Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen, “Cobalt-In”, 2010

I laughed when I saw that Cobalt-In is not an optical illusion, or not entirely—it is dimensional.  It comes the closest of anything I saw that day  to embodying growth,  life, the mesmerizing attraction of the flower—to the bee for example.

Yes, there is nature, right here in NYC (and not just in the parks); sunny days and dandelions and spiders, too:


LH, Paul Campbell, “Brooklyn Hybrid Blue Drape”, 2017


David Denby interview with Neil Welliver: