Tulips 1


The Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi revolves around finding beauty in the natural imperfection and transience of all things. You can see it, for example, in the practice of kintsugi. The potter takes a bowl that shattered into pieces and glues it back together. Then, instead of trying to hide the seams or patch them over, she conspicuously fills them with golden laquer, accentuating the fact that the bowl broke, is breakable, and will eventually break again. In the Western art tradition, there's a similar theme of memento mori ("remember that you shall die") where a hint of rot, withering and foreboding is incorporated into what is otherwise a picture of beauty and youth. I feel however that, unlike wabi-sabi, it is often less about acceptance and contemplation and more about reminding the viewer that his death and therefore the day of reckoning is inevitably coming and therefore the viewer should consider whether he is living virtuously. You can see it in the Dutch still lifes where hiding in a luxurious display of flowers and fruits there is an apple with a worm that will soon get to its core, or in Caravaggio's painting of a half-smiling young man portrayed with a wreath on his head and a bunch of grapes in his hand, The young man is half-turned to the viewer, as if interrupted in a moment of a joyous revelry. But his skin has unnatural pallor and a few of the grapes in his hand have gone visibly bad. This Bacchus is definitely not well.

These are the things I was musing about while painting this simple still life of withered tulips. Their beauty is not of a conventional type. In fact, with their twisted petals and warped stems, you might even have trouble recognizing them as tulips. Yet they are exquisite: their shapes changed from predictable to ornate, and their deeper yellow makes even more contrast with the juicy blue of the vase.