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Sensual Fragrant Nature
Sandy Delehanty at JGlenn Gallery


By By Paul Dorn
Enterprise art critic

Art review:
Sandy Delehanty: Shenandoah Autumn
Where: JGlenn Gallery
603 Fourth Street, Davis; 757-2292
When: through May 2
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10 am - 6 pm

"Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things."-Georgia O'Keeffe

There are flowers, and then there are flowers. There is the fragrant natural flora we encounter, especially at this time of year, which delights our eyes and overwhelms our olfactory senses (often provoking allergic sneezes.) And then there are the sensual biomorphic forms that have long inspired visual artists, from Claude Monet and Frida Kahlo to Georgia O'Keeffe and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Often, such artists have pushed beyond simple "flower arrangement in vase" still-lifes, to create highly eroticized images with their floral subject matter. And why not? You don't need to be a Freudian phytologist to understand that flowers are, after all, the sex organs of plants. Ephemerally beautiful, eternally symbolic, flowers are rich with metaphorical possibility.

Building on this tradition of evocative floral imagery is artist Sandy Delehanty, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near the small town of Penryn. Her impressive oil and watercolor paintings of roses, dahlias, sunflowers, lilies and grape vines are on view through May 2 at the JGlenn Gallery in Davis. Delehanty's imagery demonstrates the fine control of a photo realist painter, the textural sensitivity of a sculptor, and the botanical appreciation of a gardener.

But Delehanty isn't interested in giving us pretty pictures of flowers. Her images are not "windows" into nature, nor are they intended as botanical documentation, but rather are precisel rendered expressions of her artistic personality, formally simple yet compositionally complex. Her scale, color palette and disposition of space on the canvas are all intended to capture an ambiance.

"I am an artist, not a photographer, so I can edit nature at will," says Delehanty, who began her studies in art at Chico State University, and later worked privately with several regional painters. "I move shapes, change values, add and subtract flowers or leaves until the painting captures the mood I want to create."

With her fine touch and impressive control, Delehanty's watercolor and oil paintings convey a range of emotion. Her small watercolor "Reflections on a White Rose," for example, presents a great dramatic contrast between the light bloom rendered with delicate lines, and the dark violet background. Yet even within the light and dark spaces, we see subtle shades of color, reflections of light presumably from other nearby vegetation, adding a depth of texture and hue to the image.

Delehanty's outstanding oil painting "Shocking Pink Rose" offers a close-up view of a voluptuous blossom, enlarged to engulf the eye in dazzling shades of red, pink and white. The petals unfold toward us with excited energy and movement, a vibrancy enhanced by light yellow flourishes on the edges of several petals, the tight perspective drawing our attention to the delicate and profuse veins and the richly textured skin. The image becomes less about the 3-D object represented, and more about the two-dimensional color and shading. A similar exploration with the same subject occurs in her smaller watercolors "Rosie" and "La Petite Rose."

"My favorite perspective is that of the hummingbird," says Delehanty. "When I look at flowers I am drawn to their color and their shape, but as I begin to design a painting I see patterns. I see patterns in the shapes made by light and shadow, in the colors and how they contrast with one another, in the shapes of the petals and leaves and in the shapes between the flowers, and leaves."

This hummingbird's perspective is perhaps best represented in Delehanty's large watercolor "Dahlia," which shows the glowing yellow pistil of the flower, surrounded by bright pink petals, a glimpse of the thick stalk trailing off to the right. Set against a dark background with brighter petals in the back and darker ones in the foreground, it's a brilliant study of contrast and perspective. "When I enlarge one of my dahlias in a painting like this, I feel like I am sculpting," says Delehanty. "I use the shapes made by the light and shadows to tell me about the shape of each petal."

A pair of Broadway Lily images offers a similarly accomplished perspective study. "Broadway Baby" presents a back view of a profiled flower, lit from above so that we see the stamen's shadows through the nearly transparent petal. "Broadway Lily" presents a close-up frontal view, the brilliant red tendrils and anther of the stamen reaching towards us, the blistered surface of the delicate petal receding away.

Delehanty complements her floral images with several watercolor paintings of grapevines. These are remarkable for the thick, striated texture of the vines, rendered precisely together with plump orbs of ripe blue and immature multi-hued fruit. Her translucent grape leaves, brightly colored with the shades of red and orange, contrasts nicely with the solidity of vines. We can almost hear their rustling in the autumnal breezes.

Delehanty's mixture of earthy reality and dreamy idealism is the most American of cocktails, served to heady effect. Her art is soothing in the face of the world's turbulence, inspiring to the spirit as well as the eyes. Like the fragrance of a lilac, Delehanty's images fill viewers with a transcendental calm.

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Last modified March 22, 2001

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