Centerpiece I: Prickly Pear and Desert Willow

I mostly paint stuff. Generally it could be called sill life, but also it might incorporate elements of landscape, animals or figures into the mix. Or it might be in an improbable arrangement. Lately I’ve been focused on mashing together still life objects with big skies and landscape components in an attempt to reflect on the way we appropriate nature for our own ends.

Desert Treasures

Desert Treasures

I find things on my daily walks in the arroyo with the dogs. Sticks, feathers, interesting rocks and even skulls and bones. When I first thought of what to paint for this show that would reflect my surroundings or culture, I thought of painting some of these things.

Wilkey sketches for Centerpiece

Working out the ideas

For a few days I collected objects with this in mind, but wanted to take it further. It made me think of the phenomenon, of how we buy plants and flowers to adorn our homes, while not always taking time to appreciate the beauty that naturally surrounds us.

The paintings I decided to do for Wide Bay High Desert II are essentially table-scapes in which I’ve replaced the cultivated cut flowers usually found on tables with local desert blooms. I think, in our busy lives, we can spend more time with this sort of “indoor nature” than with the outdoor version. It can mean we might also be out of touch with what’s happening in the environment and, to me, it echoes the possibly of being out of touch with our deepest selves.

Centerpiece I: Prickly Pear and Desert Willow, oil painting by Jean Reece Wilkey

Centerpiece I: Prickly Pear and Desert Willow, oil on linen, 16×12 inches by Jean Reece Wilkey

I chose the Prickly Pear cactus because they are everywhere in the high desert. There are few varieties of cactus native to this region and there are really more stumpy trees and small shrubs than cactus. Prickly Pear often sprout up under one of these shrubs, where they take advantage of a bit of shade (and stealthily wait for dogs to jump into the bushes after rabbits – ouch!)

prickly-pear-slice-660w-optIn winter the rabbits feast on the Pricky Pear, the cold winter nights erode parts of it as it freezes, molds grow on aging leaves, and in the early spring it begins its resurrection to bloom once again in May. Big thickets of it proffer incandescent yellow or red flowers that are easy for insects to find in the subtle palette of the desert landscape. The wide, flat leaf is called “Nopal” and is sold (without the spines) in the local markets and eaten in a dish called nopalitos.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow

The desert willow is a robust native tree that blooms profusely all spring and into the heat of the summer. Producing hundreds of seedpods each year, it self propagates like a rabbit and its roots dive some 70 feet below the surface in search of moisture. Its narrow leaves provide thin shade and, like most desert flowers, the blooms last only a few days. One popped up just outside my studio door a few years ago and blesses me daily with its profusion of delicate flowers. So naturally, I had to immortalize it in paint.

6 thoughts on “Centerpiece I: Prickly Pear and Desert Willow

  1. Hello Jean, So interesting to read your post, about the plants and significance of your painting. I like how your cactus looks so prickly yet so beautiful at the same time.

  2. Jean….lovely as ALWAYS. Happy to see you on the blog again, too.

  3. Thanks so much Susan, Adrienne and Nolan for your kind words about my work. Sorry I haven’t been on the blog more. I finally figured out how to do the “follow” so I can get everyone’s posts in my inbox (Trudie had to explain it). The follow button wasn’t showing up since my blogs are linked and I was always logged in. I’ve really been enjoying catching up with all of your posts and seeing all the wonderful work and shows.

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