You’re bound to have a wonderfully visceral reaction to Heather Sayeau’s breathtaking floral oil paintings in her aptly titled show, “It’s Spring,” at the Vineyard Haven library. Her luscious depictions of roses, peonies, and violets burst forth, breaking through the literal two-dimensional surface of her canvases and, because of their impressive size, reaching out to touch us.
Sayeau’s visible brushwork animates her compositions, capturing nature’s life force in all its glory.
“I hover between abstraction and realism, but I like to have a surface that’s juicy,” Sayeau explains. “I like to see paint, brushstrokes, and drips. The nature of the material is as important as the image to me. I try to bring the paint in as part of the image itself.” Speaking about her former, more abstract style, Sayeau says, “I liked the freedom that abstraction gave me, but I also missed the ability to render luscious brushstrokes.”
Sayeau has been depicting floral beauty for more than 30 years. But don’t be fooled by the identical title, “Roses,” for a number of her paintings. She reveals each flower’s individuality by portraying the endless variety of shades of dark, light, reddish, purplish, and white or yellow-highlighted pinks. The bouquet of petals in “Violets” is a bit more impressionist, although immediately recognizable.
Behind many of her blooms, you can make out delicate, floral-patterned lace. Sayeau, a winter resident on the Vineyard, gets pieces from Chicken Alley. She then spray-paints through them, as you would with a stencil, often with gold tones, leaving behind the fabric’s image that seems to go in and out of focus, imbuing the background with an ethereal quality. The lace creates a nostalgic sensibility. And although there is a romantic aura to the pieces, their vivacity negates any hint of overt Hallmark sentimentality. “It’s about home and nostalgia. My mother and grandmother had lace tablecloths. And flowers are ancient things. They’ve been with us forever,” Sayeau reflects.
Perhaps the most abstract composition is Sayeau’s giant, striking painting, “Tulips.” Here she borders an extreme close-up of the flowers on the top and bottom, with wide swathes of what looks like fabric. But she painted these horizontal bands and then stamped a pattern on with a cloth flower dipped in paint.
In “Peonies,” we again see Sayeau’s skill in using a limited palette, this time tinted shades of white to depict the exuberance of these flowers. Three small buds seemingly “drop” into the picture frame, perhaps hinting at the lifecycle from start to finish. Sayeau points out that flowers themselves are intimate with the cycle of life. They can celebrate births, are intimately tied to weddings, and then bring dignity and beauty to funerals. “Within the last month, I attended two memorial services, and the sight of the flowers brought tears to my eyes,” the artist says. “What I want to convey with most of my work is the power of beauty that really changes things. Beauty is something that brings comfort.
“It’s powerful enough to change your whole outlook instantly. The irony of it is that flowers are made of petals, which are so fragile, and they don’t last, but keep recurring.” Fortunately for us, Sayeau’s paintings are permanent gifts of beauty’s power that most definitely leave us with what she hopes is “a sense of fullness.”
“It’s Spring,” work by Heather Sayeau, is on view at the Vineyard Haven library through the end of April.