Friday, July 8, 2016

Reptilian Flowers and the Low Abodes, past Homes and Driveways

This is a little artwork that relates shunned plants and animals (the poisonous, the wriggly and the ones thought to be symbolic of evil) to those suddenly discovered dainties a person comes across, especially certain flowers that appear pristine, close to perfection in their design by all forces within nature that shape wild species. The flower in this piece is the turtlehead, or in Latin, Chelone glabra, a member of the figwort family and another denizen of the wet meadows and ditches common to the Lake Superior region, but a sun-lover in common with many snakes and turtles. I have written about this flower before, it is so immediately, strikingly, formed like the head of a turtle, with a reptilian mouth slightly open for breathing or other vital purpose. I first saw a pink version of it, almost certainly planted on that ground by a long-ago gardener in northern Ontario. The native northland variety is cream-colored.

When first illustrating it in summer 2015 I exulted in roadside specimens hemmed in, as if through modesty, by thick grasses that mostly hid the blossoms. Just before beginning the project I mislaid my late mom's sunglasses alongside a turtlehead skirted by an improvised path, in hay that was mowed the day following my recovery of the glasses with a blindly reaching hand, after no amount of searching by eye would turn them up. So this painting, built of at least three perspectives--sidelong, top down and upward from sod level--is a little frenzied, by a looker who couldn't be contented with just a few standing-up views of the plant.

The red-bellied snake is an addition I can dedicate to my near neighbor on the west who first showed me  one that she captured by hand right off the sand-and-grass driveway well into autumn. I had seen this kind of snake but considered it some brown local version of a common garter snake. But close intimate looking reveals other markings, particularly on the underside; this snake held high for viewing or rolled over shows a pink or pale red belly. The Latin name is Storeria occipitomaculata--and thank you Deb for making my introduction, you who grew up in the adjoining county.

I wanted a land-form to offset all the billowy grasses and first thought of stumps since they abound in squat and snaggy forms, but the open country where the turtleheads occur made other suggestions. Ant mounds revealed themselves where I was prowling for ideas and so, in the vicinity of some old landowner's tumbledown carpentry I sat and drew in a mound, symmetrical and shooting out its own grasses.  Ant mounds function as nurseries for the ant colony, and serve to open a piece of ground, allowing for exchanges of gases, water and nutrients via the concentrated activity of the ants. They are an indicator of nature at its busiest, and would likely not be allowed to flourish if very many people were raising kids and running pets nearby.

Old Field Comeback: Turtleheads with Red-bellied Snake, as I have titled it, is a revision of the 2015 work which had two snakes in it, and speaks for places with a possible, forsaken or forgotten human touch on them, with moulds and lichens and the likelihood of something's buried or exposed bones, with smells of a wide variety, and an overtone of sadness mixed with free-spirited delight, since today is today, suffering little enough of yesterday.  A link to it, partway down the page on is here.

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