Familiar and mysterious: John Grant explores the role of flowers in ‘Attraction’

John Grant’s “Attraction,” which includes the piece "Dahlia Mary Ann," seen here, is on view at Second Street Gallery through January 18. Image courtesy of the artist John Grant’s “Attraction,” which includes the piece “Dahlia Mary Ann,” seen here, is on view at Second Street Gallery through January 18. Image courtesy of the artist

On the cusp of winter, the garden behind John Grant and Stacey Evans’ home is a spectrum of browns, greens, bare trees, bamboo shoots, and naked stems. It’s all askew as the fading light of day shines orange through the spaces formerly occupied by verdant leaves and vibrant blooms.

Gardening season has passed, but it’s easy to imagine the trees bursting with green growth, beds full of tulips, ranunculus, zinnias, foxgloves, dahlias, roses, anemones (Evans’ favorite), poppies (Grant’s favorite), and whatever else they manage to grow.

The garden works out well: Evans likes to plant the flowers, and Grant likes to pick them. Grant also likes to make art with them. In fact, many of the blooms in “Attraction,” Grant’s show of larger-than-life botanical works now on view at Second Street Gallery through January 18, were plucked from this very garden.

Grant’s interest in visual art began in photography, when he served in the Navy during the Vietnam War (“I had a bad draft number,” he says). One of his fellow shipmen had a camera, and when they were in port, they’d disembark to photograph the sights, in Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, The Philippines, and Alaska—when they docked in Japan, Grant purchased a camera of his own.

After the Navy, a graphic design career led him to publishing (he co-owned Thomason Grant, which published children’s and photography books from local and nationally known writers and photographers), and then to a lengthy stint as vice president of creative for Crutchfield Corporation. During his 12 years at Crutchfield, technology changed drastically—and his attention turned to digital scanning.

Flamboyant, 2018, 38 x 38 inches; mounted sheet: 43 x 43 inches. Image courtesy the artist

“Somehow, I started scanning flowers,” says Grant.

Both of Grant’s parents were master gardeners, as were his paternal grandparents. His mother practiced Ikebana—the Japanese art of flower arranging—and he was always captivated by the colors, the textures, and the relationship between the flowers.

Grant found that the scans—he’d place the flower on the glass bed of the scanner and leave the cover open so the delicate bloom wasn’t crushed, then scan the flower at a high resolution and make a larger-than-life print of it—resonated with colleagues.

Eventually he began selling scans of “new and fresh-looking” flowers to stock photography company Getty Images, and they sold so well Grant was able to leave Crutchfield. One photograph, of a red and white ruffled tulip, was used on the cover of Stephanie Meyer’s mega-best-seller Twilight: New Moon. The more picture-perfect botanical scans he sold, the more he started to wonder: What is it about flowers?

“Some people have a truly visceral response to botanicals,” he says. We plant flowers in gardens and clip them from their stems to display in vases on our tables. We give them as gifts. We wear them on our clothes. We spray their essence on our skin. Grant says he can’t quite put his finger on the why, but he knows that attraction has something to do with it.

“The whole element of attraction in our lives is a really important thing to become aware of, because it may be very, very close to the core of our existence,” he says. “That we have that feeling of attraction, whether it’s for flowers or another person, or any kind of thing, if you start to think about what it feels like to be attracted, and pull it apart, it’s a really cool concept, a really deep subject that we gloss over.”

Viewers may be drawn to the pieces in “Attraction” for their size. All of the works are large, (some are more than three feet on each side), and afford a close look at each individual petal, stem, stamen, and bead of pollen. Some of the images—a white ranunculus with a jammy purple center, a white dahlia with a smear of pollen, a hot pink hybrid gerbera daisy—pop forth from black backgrounds, like planets floating in space, at once familiar and mysterious.

Anemones, 2018, 30 x 32 inches; mounted 37 x 35 inches. Image courtesy the artist

In some cases, Grant has pulled the flowers apart—removed the petals from a red tulip, or a foxglove, and rearranged them. Others (“Iris Ocean,” “Offering”) are more experimental, where Grant uses water, acetate, and paint to create different types of backgrounds and atmospheres.

“Magnolia in Repose,” which depicts a browning magnolia bloom on a stark black background, explores the beauty of dying blooms, sad and lovely in how the petals begin to curl in upon themselves.

All of the works highlight the singularity of the blooms, what Grant likes to call the “body language” of the individual flowers. How one seems a bit bashful, another proud. A grouping of two poppies might look like lovers, while five or six poppies together may look like they’re having a party. “Attraction” is not a show about perfection, says Grant. “I’m not into capturing a storybook flower.”

Grant’s botanicals are rather scientific, and they are also quite emotional—people tend to separate the two, says Grant, but there’s something to be said for combining close examination with emotion.

“It’s a way of taking things inside so that you can live with it, and so that you can understand your relationship to it more fully,” he says. “The more you observe, the more overpowered you are with that sort of magnitude of greatness of our being.”

John Grant’s “Attraction” is on view at Second Street Gallery through January 18.

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