"Heart of the Family" by Peggy Zablotny. Photo courtesy of Peggy Zablotny

Peggy Zablotny's floral bouquet at Field

By Brooks Robards - August 31, 2006

Vineyard Haven artist Peggy Zablotny some years ago reinvented floral art by combining it with the Victorian hobby of pressed flower arrangements and photographing the results. Her latest work is in glorious bloom at the Field Gallery through Sept. 10, along with the masterful painting of Rose Abrahamson.

This joint exhibit marks a reunion, since Ms. Zablotny and Ms. Abrahamson showed together at the Field eight years ago. Most of Zablotny's new prints contain Vineyard flowers, but she has included one in hot reds and pinks, taken from flowers in her late mother's Fort Myers, Fla., garden, "Bougainvillea Serenade."

The natural objects in "Cotton Leaf Feather Bark," from her 1999 "365 Days of the Year" series, originated in North Carolina. Strikingly different from most of her floral arrangements, the eponymous title of this lovely print creates an imaginary new species.

From Ms. Zablotny's spring series,
From Ms. Zablotny's spring series, "Spring is All Around Us."

The images in Ms. Zablotny's still lifes are so clear that the flower petals, leaves, stems and other natural objects pop out as if they were real, complete with shadows and three dimensions.

Manipulations of size turn tiny florets into giant works of natural art, performing the same kind of magic that the film, "Microcosmos," did and adding resonance to the artist's work. In "Fantasy at Feather Hill," Ms. Zablotny turns red petals into a fence, and Bat-face Cuphea petals in "Admiration" look like fans. When enlarged, a purple-black pansy becomes a Darth-Vader-like death's head, and the four-petalled white flowers of "Summer Solstice Evening Song," gathered from Sandwich, have ovaries as vibrant and unique as insects.

Even a horticultural expert might find it a challenge to identify some of Ms. Zablotny's flowers. A series, "Spring Is All Around," "Spring Is In," and "Spring Is Up," contains vivid orange wavy circles that turn out to be the coronas of narcissi, and sepals make up part of the arrangement in "Bougainvillea Serenade." If the function of art is to help the viewer see the world in new ways, Peggy Zablotny accomplishes that goal with finesse.

Ms. Zablotny's exhibit partner, painter Rose Abrahamson (profiled in the Aug. 24 Times) combines rigorous intellectual inquiry with the sensuous beauties of fine draftsmanship and color. Most of the works on display have been done in the past year, although the artist reached into her repertoire and brought out several masterful older paintings.

Ms. Abrahamson says "Persephone-Goddess of Autumn" (1993) had no name until an art school student said the artist had created a hierophant - an interpreter of the Elysian mysteries. After a little research, Abrahamson named her powerful female figure after the goddess of the underworld, abducted by Hades.

The artist worked on the portrait of her mother, "Ethel," shown full figure sitting back on a sofa, for five years from 1977 to 1982. She has invested her maternal figure with a majesty that lifts it to epic proportions.

"Unheard Melody" uses line and color to create a moving plunge into abstraction. "Deconstructing Gorky," finished this year, came about because of Abrahamson's interest the Armenian abstract expressionist. She clipped a story about Gorky from the New York Times and realizing, "I can do anything I want," tore up the clipping and incorporated it. "I had great fun," she says. "It just got in my blood."

In her most striking work, "Awakening," James Joyce gazes at a beautiful woman, while an angel stands in the background. The large, mixed-media painting was completed as a labor of love for Ms. Abrahamson's late husband. She doesn't know who the woman pictured is, but the figure looks a little like the artist.

"I don't know what I'm doing," Rose Abrahamson protests. If that is the case, her flights of imagination should never be tethered.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.