By Laura Pierce, Nasher Museum Intern
On Sunday, September 21st floral designer Jim Johnson of the Department of Horticultural Studies at Texas A&M University, presented an extraordinary event where he created floral responses to several works of art from the Nasher’s El Greco to Velázquez exhibit. While I was not personally able to see Mr. Johnson in action this weekend, recently I was fortunate enough to see his magnificent floral creations on display in the Doris Duke Center at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. I had read the article written by Alice Le Duc for the Herald Sun, where Ms. Le Duc described her own interpretative composition of the painting The Kitchen Maid by Diego Rodriquez de Silva Velázquez in flowers in order to promote this event. Yet, on my walk from the Nasher to the Doris Duke center I found my self questioning what kind of things I would see. Would I be able to tell how the painting related to the floral design? How abstract would the interpretations be? Would the arrangements only be composed of flowers or would they include other materials as well?
Despite some familiarity with the event, I was not prepared for the sheer brilliance of the work completed by Mr. Johnson. These floral arrangements were unlike any I had ever seen before. They were bold, they were mighty, they were colorful, they were abstract, they were beautiful. Even though I’ve seen the paintings these creations were based on more times than I can count, I was stunned with the ingenuity and imagination Mr. Johnson used to create his masterpieces. Nevertheless, with some help from Alice Le Duc, director of adult education at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, I was able to better understand the processes Mr. Johnson used, and how he envisioned and created these arrangements.
To create each arrangement he first started off by first examining a painting, such as the portrait of King Phillip III of Spain by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, and then writing down the first series of descriptive words that came to his mind. For example with the King Phillip III portrait he thought of the words “strength, glory and wealth.” From these indicator words Mr. Johnson then created a sketch of his proposed arrangement, which he later used as a basis for the final product.
I must have stared at these creations from over a half an hour trying to make sense of them and in the process definitely chose a few favorites. I absolutely loved the arrangement based on the portrait of King Phillip III, as discussed above, especially because of the care Mr. Johnson took to find tree branches with an intricate bark pattern – meant to symbolize the complex designs on the king’s dress – which he used to create to pedestal for the arrangement. I was also extremely moved by his interpretation of Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino by El Greco, where he used vertical design to capture the parallel lines created by the top of the chair, Hortensio’s eyes and his hands. Ultimately, while I certainly didn’t fully understand each arrangement (Isn’t that the beauty of art though?), I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mr. Johnson’s magnificent works.