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Floral theme flaunts the power of the flower

“Sally Holmes” by Mary Sue Walsh is a luscious rendering of white blossoms and pink buds that highlights the quality of the acrylic medium.

“Sally Holmes” by Mary Sue Walsh is a luscious rendering of white blossoms and pink buds that highlights the quality of the acrylic medium.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Art League Gallery is hosting “Art of the Flower,” a beautifully ambitious installation of 200 paintings and drawings by area artists based on a floral theme.

When Georgia O’Keeffe had her first major flower exhibition in New York in 1925 she showed the world the power of the flower as a symbol of the life force and its potential to inspire abstract compositional design.

“Vise” by Claudia Baragiola is filled with traditional and modern signs of contemporary life, including an antique Macintosh computer.

“Vise” by Claudia Baragiola is filled with traditional and modern signs of contemporary life, including an antique Macintosh computer.

Her mural-scale blossoms were part of her rebellion against the traditionally male-dominated art world that relegated female artists to portraiture and still life.

Fast forward to “Art of the Flower” at the NMAL and we find a blend of traditional and contemporary male and female artists enjoying the creative potential of O’Keeffe’s early breakthrough.

Although overcrowded to the max, the exhibition offers patient viewers a cross section of styles, scales and visions that will delight the eye and occasionally excite the intellect.

The style curvismo or curvism was developed by Albuquerque artist Ricardo Chavez Mendez as a counterpoint to cubism. In Mendez’ world there is an interconnection between all things in nature that allows them to flow together into coherent patterns.

Claudia Goodell, who also works in a traditional style, is one of Mendez’ students who completed an asymmetrical diptych begun by her son-in-law who died suddenly. The beautiful painting titled “Visitor” is a fluid interpretation of plants and flowers that truly celebrates life.

Joseph M. Hutchinson offers two outstanding reinterpretations of the intersection between abstract expressionism and the painterly New England realism created by Fairfield Porter in the 1960s.

Hutchinson’s “Interior with Quince” is a spatially active, not-so-still life that is a well-executed bridge between abstraction and realism.

Contemporary realist Claudia Baragiola offers the carefully rendered “Vise,” a wonderful modern still life, to the fray. I love the clarity of her painting that depicts a glass vase of Black-Eyed Susans, a bowl of grapes and an ancient Macintosh computer in living color. To add a sense of mysterious tension Baragiola has fastened a bar clamp on top of the computer.

Paul Rodenhauser is known for his bird paintings, but is a capable realist in other areas. Rodenhauser’s “Champagne Elegance” is a well-painted single bloom that echoes the scale of O’Keeffe’s early efforts. His attention to detail and blacked out background make for an eye popping presentation.

Mary Ann Walsh proves that wonderful things can be rendered in acrylic. Her stunning “Sally Holmes,” “Ann Boleyn” and “Taos Hollyhocks” acrylics are painfully beautiful and a joy to view.

“Champagne Elegance” by Paul Rodenhauser reveals the artist’s mastery outside of his signature bird paintings.

“Champagne Elegance” by Paul Rodenhauser reveals the artist’s mastery outside of his signature bird paintings.

My favorite is “Sally Holmes,” a stunning rendition of white blossoms and pink buds that superbly captures the form, delicacy and light gathering qualities of flower petals and leaves.

In shear graphic arts terms, “Christmas Cactus” and other works by K. Henderson, deserve viewer attention. Henderson’s crisp and clean drawing ability and carefully selected palette give these works a true visual punch.

Walsh and Henderson are among a host of talented artists in this collection that includes Rex Barron, Depy Adams and experimentalist Fred Yost, among many others.

Though the dense hanging obscures the beautifully clean and straight walls of the reconditioned galleries, this is a must-see exhibition for lovers of flowers and art in general. Gallery director Buffy Nelson was overwhelmed by the response she received from her call for entries and I hope she is equally overwhelmed by a positive public response to her selections.

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