Thoughts While Looking at Orchids

The orchid is a kaleidoscopic plant. I hold my face very close to its face. What combinations propel it to bloom as the sun turns, as the humidity shifts? Until, a striking pattern of color and form emerges and spirals open, lilting as a dancer into multiple characters with conversations in their bodies. The orchid is capable of holding the gaze for valuable time and resources, even for life itself, as tales of orchid hunters and smugglers are sure to prove. 

Picasso & Orchids Collage by Shana Thornton. Orchids photo by Terry Morris. Cheekwood “Orchids in the Mansion” 2021. Picasso photo from video at Figares exhibition. Frist Art Museum 2021.

What presses an orchid and an artist to create, even the simplest of forms into an expression? This is not a callow show and representation. 

Textures. This one with its grey bulbous wormy-faced ends growing over the edge of the pot, reaching out as short tentacles, root-like but partially airborne. The green wedge-shaped leaves are hard and I could carve words into the flesh of them with the tips of my fingernails ever so slightly, and they seal them up afterward. The leaves sit that way, maybe growing another. It’s a long time. A thin stem arches up, nimble threading of lifetimes, those folds, as if butterflies about to emerge, greyed by coming into form and existence at first, as nearly all life, grey casting—and the pallor catches upon opening and unfolding and growing and it deepens and becomes rich and bold, taking its browns and greens, taking blue and purple, expressing yellow and pink, mauve and cream, maroon and orange forms defying categorization. Air plant. Blooms pull the stems in acrobatics. Tree leaping and clinging simultaneously.

A tendril swivels and pauses, steady. Another tendril swivels and pauses, steady. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Steady gaze. A long time…

Just before Valentine’s Day, we visited “Orchids in the Mansion” while the sky threatened ice and snow. The frigid air was a contrast to the tropical reflections that greeted us indoors, and sweat slid under our coats. Later, at Picasso’s Figares exhibit, the artist is there—painting a vase with flowers first while wearing a coat and scarf in the video.

See the artist’s focus mesmerized. Is it any less evident in the orchid? Or, in my eye pressed to a kaleidoscope’s lens? 

When you behold a flower in a state of wonder. 

Does the orchid marvel at the world—life sky, canopy bodies, its mouth open and tongue flared out for catching rain and travelers, faces peering in as if answers to existence awaited? 

Akin to wonder, to amaze, akin to bedazzlement, akin to bewitchingly cool. 

But, there’s a pressure to find and discover another expression. Not only of beauty, but of understanding, of appreciation for the connections of the artwork itself. Such complexity is wrapped into this simple sentiment—this basic need—as an artist that it is overwhelming, debilitating, and alienating at its most difficult, while it’s healing, exhilarating, and captivating at its most liberating to be aware of a creative state of being. 

Steady gazing to close until wispy as paper to ash by the burning of the sun the blooms fall away one by one. 

Orchids in the Mansion 2021

The original Picasso video on YouTube.