On Hope and Dead Hydrangeas

The Vestal Virgin (Great Expectations) , 1996, beeswax & bridal bouquet

The Vestal Virgin (Great Expectations), 1996, beeswax & bridal bouquet

Almost two decades ago I created a piece for the inaugural exhibit for the Skirball Cultural Center, inspired in part by Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham. At the reception, a couple asked me why I chose a theme that embodied such sadness to celebrate a happy event, and I responded "in longing there is hope." For me, the wax hands were always reaching, and therefore eternally open to the possibility of receiving love. 

Lately, on early morning runs during my first snowy winter in a long time, I've been noticing the delicate beauty of dead hydrangeas and other garden plants. Hydrangeas hold in their dried state the promise of what they may become again in spring, but with no guarantees. Seeing the latent possibilities is an act of hope. The opening of a cultural center was the culmination of an original act of hope. In the end, Miss Havisham repents for having chosen revenge over love, asks for forgiveness, and makes amends to Pip and Estella. This is also an act of hope, even though Pip and Estella (at least in the novel) never really have a happy ending together. 

As an artist, I live constantly in the longing / hope paradigm during the process of imagining and then creating work. Envisioning a piece is seeing the latent possibility of form and meaning in a world where the form does not yet exist. The act of making, sewing, photographing, or drawing may bring this image to fruition, but there is no guarantee that the reality will accurately reflect the original vision. Sometimes the real thing just doesn’t work, but sometimes it comes together beautifully.

Rebecca Solnit, in her book Hope in the Dark writes that “hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” In these times, to create is both an act of hope and an act of resistance within which we are able to see what we might become.

Weekly Obsession: Gerald Leslie Brockhurst

Jeunesse doré  , 1934  by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890 - 1978)  Collection: National Museum Liverpool  ©Richard Woodward

Jeunesse doré, 1934

by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890 - 1978)

Collection: National Museum Liverpool

©Richard Woodward

Gerald Brockhurst was a British artist perhaps best remembered for his glamorous portraits of high society ladies such as Marlene Dietrich and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. However, a large number of his paintings and etchings are of the women in his life - both his first wife Anais and his second, Kathleen Woodward, whom he renamed "Dorette" (pictured above).

Brockhurst's style was very influenced by the works of 15th century painters such as Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, but the expressive, psychological power of his portraits are pure 20th century.  The gazes of these women are full of intensity, whether it is projected outward at the viewer, or inward, as if the sitter is locked in a private reverie. Combined with moody, romantic landscapes in the background, these paintings pack an emotional wallop.

Jeunesse doré is one of my favorite works. Not only because of the way Dorette staunchly emerges from the grey background of the landscape and clothing by the force of her personality, but I also love the contrasting softness that resides in her face. Brockhurst has captured a the complexity of a real person here, and it feels like we are looking at Dorette on her own terms.