Entering Caitlin Bingham’s exhibit at the West Tisbury library is like walking into the spring that has not quite fully bloomed on our Island. Bingham works in various media, but all evoke the flowers she is surrounded with on a daily basis as a full-time floral designer at Morrice Florist.
“I started working as a floral designer about six years ago. A family friend owned a flower shop, and I had just graduated from college, looking for a job,” Bingham says. “I started painting flowers shortly after starting my job there, but I have always been drawn to nature as my subject matter. My work is not strictly floral, I also paint landscapes and other objects in nature, but my paintings are always inspired by the flowers I’m surrounded by every day. If it’s not the subject itself that’s inspiring me, it is the color palette I’m working with.”
Her palette is lush and defines shapes that hover between abstraction and realism. Bingham says she starts a painting from life or from a photo she’s taken, then finishes it from memory: “I love saturated color, there is no aspect of my livelihood that doesn’t involve an array of color. Inspiration comes from the saturated sweet peas I use in floral design and the sea of bright zinnias growing in my garden.” You can see what she means with the small 5- x 7-inch “Sweet Pea” and “Fritillaria” right at the start of the exhibition.
In Bingham’s larger 22- x 28-inch “Poppies,” her images dance across the flat surface, alluding to a floral landscape rather than depicting a specific one from life. It is a graceful pastiche of flowers and leaves bending in the breeze.
“Being a florist, I have the opportunity to really appreciate each individual flower I handle,” she says. Nowhere does this appear more true than in her wall of individual 6- x 6-inch canvases. They could almost be handmade tiles as they march across the wall. Bingham told me how the series came about. “For the entire month of March I did a painting a day. I initially challenged myself to this project because of the overwhelming number I saw when glancing at my student loan debt, but even if I hadn’t sold any of these paintings, I still would have been just as pleased with the outcome. It kept me focused and determined, allowing my creative process.” There are 11 left of the series, with the remaining sold via Instagram.
Bingham introduced me to a new material I’d never seen before in some of her other pictures. She paints on Yupo, a unique synthetic alternative paper that is waterproof and stain-resistant, and extremely strong and durable. Being resistant to water, it takes a long time for her ink wash images to dry. But they give the pieces, such as “Clematis Vine,” an ethereal appearance. She overlays the translucent background image with a bolder, more saturated flower and vine composition. Bingham explains, “My mentor, Adelaide Tyrol, recently introduced me to this paper; it is a glossy and waterproof synthetic paper, making it extremely hard to control your medium, but it allows for loose, flowing brush marks with beautiful movement that may otherwise be lost on other surfaces.”
Bingham has been an artist most of her life. “I have been painting for as long as I can remember,” she says. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom for many years when I was growing up, and she was always painting or crafting something, which inspired me at a young age. My paintings have always been inspired by nature and the landscape surrounding me. Also, my painting mentor, Adelaide Tyrol, is a botanical and natural history illustrator, and she had a huge influence on my art. I studied painting with Adelaide throughout high school, and then went on to the New Hampshire Institute of Art, where I received a bachelor of fine arts in painting.”
Bingham told me, “I want viewers to take time with these paintings, to see a renewed perspective of the smaller details that are constantly obstructed by our everyday lives.” And indeed, seeing her exhibition does just that, bringing us into the beauty that surrounds us everywhere on the Vineyard.
Caitlin Bingham’s work will hang at the West Tisbury library throughout the month of May.