RIDGELY — So lush, delicate and colored that you can almost smell them, Lani Browning’s floral oil paintings on linen fill the gallery in Adkins Arboretum’s Visitors Center.
This Centreville artist is well known for her award-winning landscape paintings, but in her show "Bloom," on display through July 26, she focuses exclusively on flowers. There will be a reception to meet the artist from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 22.
At the same time, the arboretum will feature "Wild Lines," an outdoor sculpture show by Howard and Mary McCoy running through Sept. 30. The McCoys will lead a walk-and-talk about how their work was inspired by the vines growing in the arboretum’s forest.
“I simply love flowers,” Browning said. “Always have. They make me happy. I’m enjoying a more intimate way of expressing myself by observing flowers and ‘listening’ to their stories.”
It’s a tribute to Browning’s skills as a painter that each of the flowers she paints is an individual. Each blossom in her “Casablanca Lilies” seems to reach out with its own particular animated gesture, and each is at a different stage in its development. The multicolored flowers in “Daffodils” appear to be engaged in a lively conversation, and every tiny, purplish floret in “Redbud” seems to be dancing with those around it.
Browning is a master at rendering exquisite shading and the subtleties of light and shadow with loose, casual brushstrokes. She captures the intricacy and nuances of each five-petaled flower in the billowing branches of “Cherry Blossoms.” While the foreground blossoms catch the light on their delicate, pale pink petals, those behind fade back into the shadows, becoming more mysterious and impressionistic as they recede into the distance.
“I am interested in the flowers as personalities — the elegance of a rose, the perkiness of a daffodil, the romance of a peony — and playing with how they ‘emerge’ in my field of vision, thus the ‘pulling in and out’ of details,” Browning said.
There’s a glow to Browning’s flowers that makes them feel distinctly alive. Many are caught in the act of opening their petals, and the stems of those in full flower bend just a little, bringing to mind the phrase “heavy with blossom.”
“I paint the flowers from life,” Browning said. “It’s a challenge inside or outside. You must paint quickly! I rarely cut them unless there is an abundance of blossoms and/or a storm is coming. When I do cut them for a vase, it allows me to study them more closely, and my studio is filled with heavenly fragrance.”
Adding to a long list of honors, Browning recently won an award from the Oil Painters of America for her painting “Hydrangeas,” which was included in its National Spring Online Exhibition, as well as in the Adkins show, and a People’s Choice Award from Chestertown RiverArts for her landscape “Chesapeake Environmental Center” in its "Art of Stewardship" exhibit.
Despite her current focus on flowers, Browning continues to paint landscapes, finding particular inspiration in the Eastern Shore skies and water reflections, and sometimes traveling to Cape Henlopen to paint the waves or even to Chestertown’s Downrigging festival to work on her series of paintings of the tall ship Kalmar Nyckel.
“The main thing is I like to change things up,” she said. “Tackle things I haven't fully explored while still keeping my hand in those subjects that I'm more known for. I don't like to repeat myself.”
Howard and Mary McCoy, from Centreville, have been making site-specific sculptures in the arboretum forest every other year for the past 20 years. In their recent shows, they have used only the materials they can find in the forest itself. They chose this year to use vines exclusively.
“We work with the natural shapes of each vine, letting the curves and angles dictate how the piece proceeds or evolves, so it’s a real collaboration with nature," Howard McCoy said. "The way we’ve used them says something about the characteristics of the vines, like the grapevines are so thick and sturdy, you can’t bend them too far or they’ll break, but with bittersweet or honeysuckle, you can create some pretty tight curves.”
Contact the arboretum at 410–634–2847 or email@example.com for gallery hours.