Dawn Clements’ giant watercolor on paper, capturing dying peonies, is achingly beautiful. Her touch is light, her eye, and hand in a lock step; the drawing is a placeholder for where the peonies once were. The power is Dawn’s intense scrutiny, the quiet power of an unnamable truth.
She inches her way across the forms, recording each petal and leaf. I love to linger on the top center; the white closed peony with the red ribbon leans toward the redder petal below, a hand reaching out for the next dance.
The peonies stand like two, heroic giants, “Before” and” After”, “Front” and “Back” as if their once beautiful bodies sag with battle wounds. The drawing is quixotic, the melancholic impossibility of containing an ephemeral life force. The paper’s folds make an irregular grid, a trellis for the writhing peonies. Gaps and overlays, paper cut out and replaced, we experience the many facets of time at the same time as we experience the drawing as one instant.
At the bottom right of the watercolor, painted in a faint wash, a hand colored, black and white photo of a woman from the nineteen thirties looks out. She may be a movie star, or someone’s grandmother. She looks above or beyond the viewer, existing in a different space, like the Greek chorus of the drawing, its consciousness, where the past is frozen in a perfection that never existed. She accentuates the artificial construct of the drawing endeavor, in the face of the “realistic” rendering of the flowers.
Behind the peonies, a vermillion triangle and 2-sided rectangle come into focus as a milk carton and other domestic objects described in Morandi-like simplicity. Dawn told me that these are actually a painting hanging at the same level as the woman’s photo, but it can read as breakfast leftovers: from the heroic to the domestic. An ochre table line is the anchor of the work, an equal sign, and a baseline. Small orange brush marks, like koi, at the mid bottom of the drawing triangulate with the woman and the milk carton. The outside edges of the peonies create a giant upside down triangle that continues to converge to a point outside the bottom of the drawing. The drawing is in continual flux.
The passage of time. The flowers bloom and die. The marks attach and unhinge from the paper, like notations on a giant calendar, with space for us, the viewer, to fill in. The drawing encompasses present, past, and, as the tender image of the 1930’s woman looks forward, the future.
In the watercolor, as in the course of a lifetime, discreet incidents accumulate and, in retrospect, become one singular thread.
Courtesy Betty Cuningham Gallery