The Bloom is Off and On


2014 Members Choice First-Place Winner:
Jolene de Hoog Harris' interpretation of
William-Adolph Bouguereau's The Young Shepherdess.
1885, oil on canvas mounted on board.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Larsen, 1968:82.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Art Museum


My family and close friends know better than to buy me a floral bouquet unless they’re attending my funeral. Watching flowers slowly choke to death in a vase filled with aspirin-laden water is not the way I want to be told they love me, they sympathize or they hope I get better.

They can, however, buy me tickets to view San Diego Museum of Art’s annual Art Alive. Yes, I realize that Art Alive contains flower arrangements (this year there were 120 of the blooming things), but I’m always curious to see how professional and amateur floral designers interpret famous paintings through their own living works of art.

Literal interpretations were easy to figure out. When I was there on April 12, it was fun listening to those around me exclaiming their joy when they made their discoveries: “Oh, those white lilies crossing each other must be her hands!” “See how she used those reeds to represent the fence?” Some people questioned the literal interpretations: “If those sunflowers are that kid’s blonde hair and the red roses are supposed to be his shirt, where are his blue eyes? I mean, after all, isn’t this painting called The Blue eyed Boy?” 

I heard some people posing questions that I remembered from grade school, art-related field trips: “How did this designer use negative space? “What movement do you think this flow of design represents?” Oh, please. Just give me the square plant containers that illustrate the buildings in Sunday Afternoon by Hughie Lee-Smith or the rounded white vase that represented the full moon in a different painting whose title escapes me at the moment. 

White lilies were a good bet for Betty Patterson del Sol to use for Portrait of a Lady by Alessandro Allori. (I wonder what less-elegant bloom someone might have used for Portrait of a Woman right next to that.) And it was easy to see why Kerry Bauer used a bird’s nest-style base filled with varying shades of green succulents for abstract painter Arthur Garfield Dove’s Formation. Another no brainer? The fake cardinal bird used in the floral arrangement interpreting artist Pompeo Batoni’s Cardinal Etienne-René Potier de Gesvres. Yep, got it. 

I heard one lady explaining to a visitor how the floral designer had used lots of wire to get a leaf to turn a certain way. Ouch. And then there was someone who painstakingly painted rainbow-colored stripes on roses. I can just hear the queen in Alice in Wonderland now: “Who painted my roses red, blue, orange, purple, pink and yellow?” 

Naturally, I can’t talk about this year’s Art Alive without saying something about the rotunda done by Carlos Franco. I read that in addition to eight date palms, 16 conical cypress trees and 10 rose trees, he used 175 pots of hanging plants, 120 bunches of various types of roses, 175 bunches of ivy and vines, and 300 bunches of yellow-china and white-china mums for his The Gardens of Alhambra: Heaven on Earth display. Need I say more?


Eva Ditler, Managing Editor