September 26, 2016

The Iris Apfel in Golda Finch

Earlier this summer, I watched an extraordinary interview with Iris Apfel on PBS. Iris Apfel was 94 at the time of the interview and was encouragingly ambulatory and cogent. Actually, she was much more than that. Ms. Apfel, a fashion icon, had amassed a large collection of fabrics, fashion, jewelry and art, which she spoke about in loving detail with a strong sense of individual will. The collection was sumptuous, idiosyncratic yet bold. Here was a woman who most definitely knew her own mind.

What stuck with me most about the interview with Iris Apfel was her modesty with regard to herself and how that played out in her accumulation of the stuff of embellishment. Her reason for the embellishment of both self and environment was to celebrate colors, textures and style despite being physically plain herself.

I thought back on this interview yesterday as I worked on a painting for a book cover. The book, Woodland Harmonies, is an as yet unpublished manuscript by writer and artist Kristina Miller. In consultation with the writer, we decided that the best subject for a color cover was her story about Golda Finch. In the story, this female goldfinch made an elaborate nest, full of all the shiniest objects that she could find. As the story goes, Golda Finch’s desire to embellish her surrounding was on account of her own plainness as a female bird with duller coloring than her male counterpart. For this reason it was somewhat of a challenge to paint, because I wanted to convey the idea of the decorative nest but also did not want to overwhelm the bird in the nest either. So I made certain that Golda Finch herself was adorned but not erased. In keeping with the aesthetic of Iris Apfel, I included small bits of costume jewelry in the nest. I also decided to keep the background gold as well, drawing upon the art of Japanese enamels and the paintings of Gustav Klimpt.

I then did something that I almost never do. I took a picture of the painting while it was still wet on my easel and sent it to my client. That turned out to be fortuitous because she wrote back that although the painting was quite pretty, I had placed a male goldfinch in the nest. How had I done that? I wondered. For some reason I painted in the bold yellow colors and black crest of the male where the greenish hues of the female were supposed to be. I can only assume that I had unconsciously painted in the drab bird's desire to be bright!
  Fortunately because the painting was still wet I could wipe off the black cap on the bird’s head and tone down the feathers to a light olive green. A little glazing tweaked the colors and shading so that the duller bird was offset by the dark portions of the nest and the collected jewels highlighted. The revised version is pictured at right.

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