In the Coral Garden
2022. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.
My beloved friend whom we lost last year worked, as a youth, in a nursery, learning about plants and how to care for them from the old Japanese man there. Every day he was taught a new plant, and what it needed to grow. The old man also taught him about bonsai, of which the nursery had an outstanding collection and indeed had already had for many years, despite the interruption of the World War. It is remarkable to me that I was utterly unaware, until recently, that the family that ran the nursery had spent the war in an internment camp, their nursery lost to them for the interval. How could I not have known that? When the war was over the family resurrected the nursery across the street from the original location, and they’ve recently celebrated their 100th anniversary as a business. They still maintain an impressive collection of bonsai.
My friend always worked in gardens after that, throughout his life – professionally, personally, or for friends. His relationship with plants was tactile, physical, but also of the spirit. They were living art for him.
We happened to visit the nursery soon after he passed, to purchase some memorial specimens. His own youthful stint there was now beyond the memory of those working at the nursery on the day of our visit. But the scents, the colors, the shapes and sap and vitality, all spoke of him still.
The nursery, the old Japanese man and his lessons, the lifelong affair with root and bud that my friend had cultivated during his time there, kept surging through my process while developing this collage. But so too did the ocean, and my friend’s love of water – swimming, diving, exploring the deep. While working on the painting I had a dream of the ocean, of swimming in San Francisco Bay, but the water there surprisingly was not dangerous and powerful but benevolent, safe, even playful. It was clear and sparkled golden, full of colorful and companionable creatures, the waves warm and embracing. I came to rest on some welcoming wooden shoal, smiling and awaiting my friend. We’d swum and snorkeled and rafted in so many waters.
And the interplay of the garden and the ocean culminated in this collage, together in my mind somehow. I quit trying to sort them out or put one above the other. It’s all together in life, after all, growing and waving and glowing, in the coral garden.
A word about the photo image: I’m very dissatisfied with the quality of the photos I’ve been able to achieve with these highly textured collages – so much so that I’ve considered just not posting about these pieces, to avoid these poor representations of my work. But I’ve decided not to be that precious about it. Hopefully sometime soon you’ll be able to see them in real life. We’ll just limp along until then. In the meantime, for what it’s worth, here’s a second (but still not satisfactory) version of “In the Coral Garden”: