New Work: Impressionist Still Life with Lilies and Roses

--Tess Farnham, "Still Life with Lilies and Roses" acrylic on canvas, 20x24


Serendipitous Iris

Today as I was searching for some wise words to inspire and ignite some passion for a current writing project, I found this David St. John poem, the find sort of fitting in with this current blog theme but also as prelude to a favorite painting :

Van Gogh, "Irises" 1889

And to elaborate on that theme, here’s something from the late fiction writer, Iris Murdoch, whose letters I read and catalogued for a grad school research project in Special Collections; this was correspondence between Iris and a beloved lit professor, Naomi Lebowitz (such a wonderful mentor and so inspiring herself as well).  The letters were delicious, full of her love of life, passion, urgency, and fervor:


“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad
with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ”
Iris Murdoch

And my favorite Iris novel, the cover’s illustration sort of remiscent of the Japanese paintings that were such an inspiration to Van Gogh, and you can definitely see it here. ..the sea,the sea reaching out to us with its fingerlike waves:

And now for the poem quote:

I love how the flower parts inspire a childlike wonder and free association of objects here.


From “Iris”
by David St. John
"There is a train inside this iris:

You think I'm crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It's a child's finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child's nail,. . ."

Like Butter, An Introduction to the Language of Flowers

photo by Tess Farnham

“And the wand-like lily which lifted up,  As a Maenad, its moonlight-coloured cup,    Till the fiery star, which is its eye,      Gazed through clear dew on the tender sky.”

Close your eyes if you will and imagine the enclosure around a bowl and fountain, its  gray painted sides alive with the hieroglyphics of those come to baptize the blank slate. ..

sequestering themselves away with only the sound of running water to inspire…

as they peed and pondered the mysteries of the universe,

sharpies at the ready and poised to scrawl those innermost thoughts. ..those odes of undying devotion.. those offers of meaningful connection at the click of a couple of digital buttons. ..

Consider too  the lowly scoreboard. .  .

the blatantcy of facebook page and relationship status,

the mobile’s greenish screen and keyboard. ..

if only to name a few of the places where alliances are forged, born, and broken these days.

But have you ever wondered what the pioneers did for PDA/PDBreakup before the saturation of mass technology?

Before the bells and whistles,

before the misspellings and abbreviations, the glows thrown off by text message light. . .

And what of those gentle Victorian ladies who hid their hands and ankles,  lacing themselves up so tight, it tournequeted the circulation from heart to head. ..

so much so that the menfolk were put upon to fashion special couches for them to fall on. . .

The few the proud, the ones who got there first. . .  nevermind this modern shock and awe delivered at the door of  far flung incontinents. . .here was hand to hand interacation.

Hold your fire until you see the whites of their eyes kinda stuff.

Here lies beloved, her poor corseted form flung across the velvet upholstery and hands kept dainty inside  silk gloves. ..till he arrives extending his intentions all neatly arranged in a bouquet. ..Depending upon the intent of the sender, a man could make or break his relationship with just one trip to the florist’s shop.For Next Time:Like Butter. ..Lily in the Language of FlowersMeanwhile, check out theImpressionist and flowers-inpired art here:

Cosmos and Iris, acrylic on canvas, Tess Farnham

Manet Made it Look So Easy

Manet’s Still Life^

I would kiss you, had I the courage.


As I type this, the work in progress on the easel is based on a photo from last week: a glass pitcher filled with lilies, roses, gerbera daisies, coral bells.

Initially I arranged a still life on the sidewalk table behind my garage, where I could make a photo framed by trees, grass, sunlight and sky.

Afterwards, I took my jump-drive to the copy shop where I noticed the printed image looked a little dark on paper. . .so now I’ve been straining to see the detail, light and shadow in the photo.  But mostly I’m having trouble seeing all the contrast and color on the glass pitcher.

So now I am studying these Manet still lifes, wishing I could somehow channel his talent for this:

I need to find some that are done in a brighter space now. . .some to get me thinking of ways to work on mine too.  Meanwhile, I will try to take Manet’s wise advice to heart:

There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When
you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again. All the rest is


The temple bell stops. . .

Morning Rituals:

After a refreshing breakfast consisting of an egg and sliced grapefruit, I went to water the garden and check on tiny new plants: tomatoes, basil, lavender and coreopsis, all of which seem to be adjusting just fine and thriving in their new home.

The peace rose I planted four years ago now stands five feet tall among them and its blooms are heady with scent.

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”  ~Emma Goldman

I grew up in a gardening family descended from florists on my mother’s side, so you’d think I’d perhaps had  my fill of it by now, but truth be told, I still get so excited just watching things grow, blossom, and bear fruit.  Such small wonders and yet so precious and memorable.


Summer classes begin in a week and soon I’ll be taking that trip across the river to join friends and colleagues. . .greeting new students and getting settled in for the next eight weeks.

But for now, I’m just taking advantage of all this time to make new work and be inspired by bees, blossoms and bugs.

“The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ”