In 2009 I started painting a series simply called Hibiscus & Banana, and it all started with a close-up of a red hibiscus flower.
The image came to mind immediately when I tried to select a flower that represented St. Lucia to me personally.
Technically, and culturally, the rose and the marguerite are the National flowers of St. Lucia. However, they were not as abundant, and did not have as much of a visual impact on me.
In fact, the association may persist for me because my family has always grown hibiscus bushes in the garden, so I saw them every day as a child. However, they also grew profusely around the island in those days.
Here is my artist statement from an exhibition a few years ago …
Hibiscus, Bananas ‘n More
Summer 2009, I went home to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia in search of reference material for my latest series of acrylic paintings. I wanted to focus on what I felt were two of the most iconic images of St. Lucian plant-life … the banana tree and the hibiscus flower. As a child, the banana industry drove the local economy, and although tourism has upstaged it, the island is still covered in banana trees – farmed, wild and decorative. Islanders take pride in being able to eat off of the land, and most properties boast a variety of fruit trees. On the other hand, the hibiscus flowers were harder to find. In recent years many plants, including the one at the end of my parents’ porch, were lost to the pink mealybug, and drought. The best specimens I found were on the grounds of hotels and restaurants. In 2010, I travelled to both St. Lucia and Trinidad, and have since expanded the series to include croton and flamboyant images.
I paint living plants interacting with their environment, sun shining through the leaves, wind blowing the petals, other plants in the background adding contrast. I try to express the atmosphere, a specific moment in time, and my feelings about the place. Although my paintings are representational, my actual focus is on the abstract rhythms of Nature. I play with the organic shapes and vibrant colours to create uplifting and engaging images. I paint because I love the creative process, however it is my hope that the finished paintings bring joy and beauty into our everyday lives.
Although I have gone on to paint other imagery, every now and then I find myself returning to this motif. I just took a look at my records and out of the last 100 paintings I’ve done (not including small daily paintings), about 1/5th of them feature hibiscus flowers!
The interesting thing about hibiscus flowers is that I encounter them here in Canada all the time too … they can be found year-round in green-houses, or as potted house-plants, and in the warmer weather they are available as large flowering plants from anywhere that sell plants (even grocery stores!). And that’s just the traditional hibiscus, not counting the hardier varieties that are now available in colder climates.
I think the allure of the hibiscus flower is partly due to the bright colour … certainly that cheerful red is why I have been painting hibiscuses lately, as a weapon to combat the winter blues!
Subconsciously, I think we are also drawn to hibiscus flowers, like so many birds and insects, because of the erotic design. The generous petals open wide like out-flung limbs promising an embrace, but really are just there to draw attention to the pistil, to play their part in the survival of the species.
For all their glorious beauty, hibiscus blooms only last a day or two, and are delicate, which is why they do not show up as often in tropical bouquets.
In fact, hibiscus flowers are a common choice for tattoos, especially in women, symbolizing delicate beauty, fragility, as well as love, passion, and a laid back life-style.
I mentioned in my statement earlier, finding hibiscus flowers growing mostly at hotels and restaurants. That is because even during the dry season when the general public will hold off on watering their flowering plants, these businesses have to try to keep them alive. They help create “atmosphere”, and it is not just that they are decorative and make the place more attractive to patrons.
It also has to do with the connotation of rest and relaxation, “fun in the sun”, and everything else positive the world thinks of when they think of a tropical vacation.
Images of pretty girls with hibiscus flowers in their hair (which is only ever done when posing for a photograph), or as part of a pool-side scene with umbrella-drinks and lounge chairs.
I have painted hibiscuses in a range of colours – pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, and white, and I think of them as portraits. I try to paint the individual flower, or grouping of flowers, with its unique environment, rather than a generic, formulaic version.
While there may be stylistic similarities tying all my hibiscus paintings together, there are so many different kinds of hibiscus plants, and so many ways to present them – varying the positions, backgrounds, lighting, stage in cycle of life, painting techniques and media etc. – that I am sure I will return to this motif time and time again, and I will find something new to explore each time.
You can find some more of my hibiscus paintings here.