Kathryn Lynch: Big Flowers

So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.  

Georgia O’Keeffe


Long after she began her most recent series of paintings of flowers, New York painter Kathryn Lynch stumbled across the O’Keeffe quote. The quote is the perfect introduction to this new series of canvases and works on paper, some of which were shown at the Little Gallery in the summer of 2013.

Like her other works Lynch is devoted to and inspired by what she sees and knows. There is both poetry and experience in her paintings. An index of subjects includes cityscapes and night scenes of the city; dogs, their actions and dog parks and various kinds of tugboats and ferries crossing the Hudson. And now she is looking at flowers. But these are not your usual pictures of flowers in a vase or pretty fields of poppies that you might imagine from the posters of paintings by the Impressionists. These are giant flowers, close ups but don’t think of Super-realism here. As in her usual manner Lynch collects images, arranges them in her mind’s eye and then creates a place for them on canvas to be. The canvas is a kind of home for her observations, drawn and colored if you will, by her imagination so that details and shapes can be exaggerated and improvised. The final painting is a grand  homage to the flower.For Lynch they signify more than a flower but a state of mind: happy, sad, glad, mad, funny all appearing very determined in their self – expression.


Red Hot

Red Hot, 2013, oil on canvas 60 x 48″


The new pictures are based on being outside in the spring and summer and studying flowers. No photography at work here–contrary to the practice of so many today–instead it is the tried and true plein air way. The poetry and the visual power of these images comes into play as she plans out her pictures, translating what she sees and gathers from the noisy and chaotic outside world  and remakes that experience and reality in the quiet and solitude of the studio. Everything Lynch paints is tempered by her mood: the flowers can be hot sultry and sexy as in Red Hot (2012) a flower looking as if it had been plucked from a Matisse hat late one night, both flamboyant and exotic. The flower in this picture seeks to seduce, to entice, to make us notice it. Or Lynch’s colors can be cool and wide-eyed like that of the image on the poster for the show at the Little Gallery , or the latest painting Big Yellow Flower, (2013)for that matter. This particular painting is a tall portrait of a flower freshly bloomed, bright as day and ready for life.  The yellow petals are set-off by green leaves. The leaves act as a kind of collar to the big sunny flower. Yet each is an intimate and enlivened form of a flower or flowers in a field then cropped close up as if she is honing in on their individual personality, as if each was its own character representative of its species of flora. And as she gets closer the surrounding flowers disappear and the background becomes dark with just the subtle suggestion of other blossoms or light in the distance. No these are not symbols or signs they are the real things distilled and exaggerated in shape and form. they signify  a state of mind: happy, sad, glad, mad, funny all appearing very determined in their self – expression.The painting is immediate fast, wet, thick and  the final image is always a dramatic character. Both by the way will be on view at the forthcoming Metro Show in New York January 22 – 26, 2014 Booth # 207.

Lynch is part of a long tradition of such realists who paint the parts of the world they know and love, places that are familiar, people that they know and things that surround them: Manet’s elegant, late flower still lives come to mind as do Van Goghs hypnotic sunflowers then jump forward to recent times and you find painters like Jane Freilicher or Fairfield Porter and then further along the early small personal tableaux of Alex Katz to the meandering landscapes of people and places by David Park and Richard Diebenkorn and then back again to  Warhol’s Pop flowers which feel more like décor than subjects. While all these predecessors are figurative by nature Lynch tells her stories mostly without people; she is opposite of many a realist like Katz , whose panoramic paintings are filled with singular portraits, like his wife and muse, Ada, or crowds of friends and acquaintances at parties or on the beach. Lynch imagines her scenarios mostly without people and when people do appear they are along side their dogs for example. The dramatis personae, the important figural elements are stand-ins, in a Lynch painting they are trees, buildings, boats, cars and now they are remarkable flowers.


Big Yellow Flower

Big Yellow Flower, 2013, oil on canvas 84 x 72″


But back to Ms. O’Keeffe: her view of the modern world certainly took from what she saw and abstracting it is now echoed in Lynch’s giant forms. O’Keefe believed: Nothing is less real than realism. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things. O’Keeffe focused on the simplified and rarified shape of the flower, Lynch wants the same but she wants it to be an expressive form, an object that has both character and a very demanding presence. This otherwise mute object seeks to communicate to the viewer through the medium of paint. And to do so Lynch pushes more, she wants the brush and force of the paint and the exaggerated natural shapes to grab you and make you see almost as if face to face and most importantly feel them, as she does, as alive, and commanding.

Like her flowers Lynch is quirky and independent, following her own course and path so that at different times of year she will address different things or places. She is not given to formulas and, like many of the women artists before her –Hartigan, Bourgeois, Benglis, to name but three–she is innovating her art on her own terms and in her own way. Her earlier cityscapes were dark and somber or painted at dusk so that car lights pop out at you and the walls of the city bend into planes of rich brown color. With her landscapes she openly declares an allegiance to the moodiness of Albert Pinkham Ryder and at the same time the flat space and distilled palette of Milton Avery. Each painting of a land or shore is more a representation of the ideas of a place, a sailboat, or water or sky, than the place itself. Weather, waves, clouds are generic but in Lynch’s hands they are the players of a scene that at it core is emotionally weighted and pictorially moving.

Lynch is certainly no imitator and her voice is strong but it is the voice of a poet so that meanings are very personal and the seemingly naïve painting styles can have a way of attracting you or not depending on how hard you look or listen ordinarily or are inclined to allow poems or images to enter your psyche. I like that they tease you and want to chat with you and are in a way clumsy, eccentric but at the same time reserved. Could you really miss a seven-foot tall flower, perhaps?

I have known Kathryn’s work since 1996 and I have sold and collected her paintings.

These new flowers for me are a great new step in her body of work.

Exhibition Postcard

Exhibition Postcard