My good friend, DC-based painter John Blee (who has been featured here in the past – and who is the main reason behind my starting this art blog), has an upcoming show at The Ralls Collection in Washington, DC. There will be an opening reception at the gallery on Wednesday October 26th, 2011 from 6:00 – 8:00pm. I wrote a piece for the show and am sharing it here to encourage readers who’ll be in the capital to check out John’s fantastic new series, titled “Orchard Suite.” Guaranteed to leave you happy.
They wanted to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
In his latest series, titled “Orchard Suite,” Washington artist John Blee explores new spatial and emotional dimensions. The works vibrate with Blee’s signature palette, composed primarily of life-affirming, spring blossom hues – although several of the works dive into deeper, nocturnal shades, reflecting a darker, profoundly sensual state. Each canvas is a testament to Blee’s ability to use form and color to build perfect tension: in the end, all the actors on his stage – no matter how diverse, numerous or unexpectedly arranged – balance and create an unlikely harmony that keeps the eyes engaged, alert, amused. The compositions themselves are more geometric than Blee’s work to date, experimenting with linear forms and nearly cubist elements – yet retaining Blee’s otherwise organic foundation with its asymmetry and playfulness. In a sense: playful geometrics against a backdrop of abstract, luminous sky-and-earth-scapes.
Visually striking and magnetic, the Orchard Suite commands the viewer’s full attention. The series’ more geometric aspects and the movement from
smaller (and at times nearly disguised) to more dominant elements create a new level of depth and dynamism in Blee’s oeuvre, enticing the eyes to dance back and forth, delving deep into the details of the abstract landscape, then quickly zooming out again to take in
the seemingly moving whole – and guess at the artist’s vision and intent. One cannot seem to stop gazing and searching. The varied parts of each canvas tug at one another to create an unlikely balance and playfulness, leaving the viewer uplifted and fulfilled, with an unmistakable joie de vivre.
Of the process of creating the Orchard Suite and the new direction in which it has taken his work, Blee says: “I am here with the work and it ‘comes’ to me. I am the recipient as much as anyone else.” This sense of unplanned urgency and spontaneity is integral to the series. Like spring blossoms, the moment of creation is fleeting – and the result unpredictable and beautiful. Emotionally and aesthetically, Blee creates something that seems fresh and new – yet we are aware of feeling something we’ve felt before, seeing something that reminds us of what we already know.
Not surprisingly for an artist who has always found great inspiration in the works of poets like H.D., the Orchard Suite series began with a reading of Rainer Maria Rilke’s orchard poems. Rilke wrote: “Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” That sound and sense of release carries through the Orchard Suite, as the works deal with the process of transformation that occurs both in life and in art, from dormancy to flowering and ripening. Other influences on Blee’s recent work include Paul Klee’s Magic Squares, Hans Hofmann, Pierre Bonnard, as well as Helen Frankenthaler.
Blee spent a significant and formative part of his childhood in India – an experience that has permeated and defined the way he views the world around him and, in turn, how he expresses his experience through painting. The Orchard Suite’s vibrant, contrasting color composition is in part drawn from Indian miniatures.