When Lisa Cooper first began curating “Flowers and Flyers,” she knew she wanted visitors to feel a sense of comfort and happiness when entering the space.
“I was really looking for something that created a sense of joy, and beauty, and peace with the year that we’ve been through,” said Cooper, the curator at Elisa Contemporary Art Gallery.
During the coronavirus pandemic, many spent more time indoors than they had in a long time, precluding people from enjoying the beauty of the outdoors and the nature around them.
Given this, “Flowers and Flyers” is a celebration of Mother Nature — the colors and the shapes. The botany and the insects. And the sense of wonder all around. The exhibit features four women whose work primarily focuses on nature. Each artist depicts different perspectives both thematically and through their chosen medium.
Rebecca Swanson has focused on botanical forms for almost her entire career, from her initial work in floral-patterned garment design to her photographs at the “Flowers and Flyers” exhibit. The exhibit’s showcased flowers are mostly local, from the New York Botanical Garden, but Swanson loves to take pictures of flowers for her work wherever she travels.
“Anywhere I go in the world, I visit a garden,” she said. “Walking around the gardens, bees buzzing, butterflies flying around, the aromas — I feel that Mother Nature and humans are absolutely interconnected.”
Swanson uses photography to build intimate portraits of blooming flowers. And she has six works in the Elisa gallery exhibit, all from her Prismatica series. Each work focuses on a flower Swanson has photographed. She digitally breaks the flower into pieces, putting it back together in a kaleidoscopic form, using bright colors to draw attention into the center of the bloom.
Swanson was working on Prismatica as she faced the unexpected loss of a loved one.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but I was taking things apart — like my world had fallen apart, and I was putting them back together,” Swanson said. “It created sort of like a kaleidoscope where things are always changing. Beautiful, but always changing.”
Cara Enteles draws her inspiration both from her home garden and from environmental issues, such as fracking. Enteles resides in the western Catskills, which has brought her a new perspective on how environmental issues impact the natural world. Her time spent gardening led her to learn about the struggle of pollinating animals — specifically butterflies.
“Where’d You Go, Karner Blue 3” explores this theme, featuring the endangered Karner blue butterfly. The piece has two parts: oil on an aluminum canvas, and hand-cut butterflies made of aluminum cans on top of the canvas and around the painting.
“The painting will change with the light and the time of day,” Enteles said. “We’re trying to mimic how things change in nature — when you’re out experiencing nature — to sort of give that kinetic experience when you’re inside.”
Like Enteles, Cynthia MacCollum explores different landscape views. For MacCollum, abstraction is a tool for eliciting the emotions people feel in nature.
“It’s more about the feelings than the actual specific plants,” MacCollum said. The works are “more about the idea of plants in the garden: The feeling that you might get from being in a magical outdoor space, or even just an everyday outdoor space where plants live.”
MacCollum has two works in the exhibit which are part of her Flower Power series, both of which are mixed media monotypes. She uses printmaking as a way to experiment and improvise during the artistic process. She utilizes an array of materials — from watercolor, to crayons, to oil paint — to add layers and complexity to each piece.
“There’s a lot of improvisation as I’m working with these, thinking about what works,” MacCollum said. “What do I want to emphasize? What do I want to cover up? What do I want to keep uncovered when I drop another layer on top of it?”
This improvisational process of layering gives the works a feeling of vibrancy and depth. Each petal riffs off the other, utilizing texture and color to build the scene.
Deborah Weiss uses layering like MacCollum, but her technique leads the viewer to a very different takeaway.
Weiss utilizes hand-cut collage, a process that entails hand-dying papers she later cuts down into botanical forms and arranges into a bouquet.
“They are arranged almost like you would arrange flowers, with intention for color, design and form,” Weiss said. “It gets kind of complicated because there are a lot of moving parts.”
Weiss’ pieces in the exhibit are part of her Daylight Blooms series. From far away, both works look like paintings rather than collage. But standing a few steps closer makes all the detailed cutting and pasting visible.
“Blooms Stems No. 3” showcases both Weiss’ knack for detail and her love of using different types of papers. In lieu of painted paper cut to resemble a vase, Weiss used a rectangular page from a vintage book. This allows the viewer to see the extremely detailed roots that Weiss has superimposed on top.
“Sometimes you just have to look at your work table,” Weiss said. “I saw this book page sitting there, and somehow it just seemed to talk to the flower forms, so I figured out a way to include (it). And it’s unique. I feel like it’s a little bit of a different spin on the botanical print.”
These varying perspectives on nature — from botanical prints to kaleidoscopic photographs — showcasing the wonder nature elicits in humans is exactly what Cooper wanted to emphasize in curating “Flowers and Flyers” at the Elisa gallery.
“Mother Nature is capable of creating the colors, the shapes, the beauty of it,” Cooper said. “The beauty of both the flowers and the butterflies.”