While Erika Hess‘ paintings are rooted in the Fauvist tradition and the work of Andre Derain and Henri Matisse – with her use of expressive colour, symbolism and simple forms – her pictures are firmly of the present, in particular this series, ‘The Flower Bearers’, an artistic response to a time, in her recent past, when she was overcome by the love that her community showered upon her after the birth of her daughter.
Up until 2015 Hess spent many years experimenting with the psychology of the figure and how diverse the composition could be by utilizing the body, her use of saturated colours and simple forms giving way to an abstraction that allowed her to explore the figure in a new way and create a primitive aesthetic that was at once joyous and full of life and vigour. After the birth of her child Hess received flowers. Lots of them. And it was unexpected. Overpowering. This outpouring of love moved her to reflect on what it means to give and receive in response to a profound event; flowers in the advent of birth and death. And these paintings are the result of that expression. Of that reaction to a communal spirit that transcends borders, class, religion. Here’s what she has to say about the series:
Nine months ago I had a baby and she is awesome. While I was anticipating the whirlwind of visitors, congrats and facebook likes, I didn’t anticipate all the flowers that were sent to us. Maybe it’s because I haven’t followed the typical social contract expected in my small hometown- I moved all over the country, eloped over 30, became an artist- but my understanding of milestone propriety is stunted.
I’ve taken up the responsibility of sending thank yous and executing pinterest worthy cards with gusto. I love it. I feel like I am part of a community that was there for me as a child. Even though they are hundreds of miles away, I can make them feel closer with a rubber owl stamp and glue.
I also began a new painting series, “The Flower Bearers” in response to the bouquets that appeared on our doorstep. The idea is beautifully simplistic- the act of giving and receiving flowers. The narrative wonderfully complex-who is receiving the flowers and why? Gifting flowers is a tradition we partake in to celebrate a birth and also commemorate a life that is no longer here. Flowers are also a tool to win a lover.
This social politesse reflex can seemed contrived but, as I have discovered, be a way to communicate a deep emotion we may not have the words to express. In that way, flowers are a way to visually communicate, like a painting.