Hollyhocks Reinterpreted by Karen Ahuja.

Going to Crystal Bridges to work allows me to have access to some time to work on my blog and gather inspiration for paintings.  I have always enjoyed viewing John La Farge’s Hollyhocks.  It was an easy choice for my first piece in my new collection.

I wanted to share my painting process and the things I learned from the artists who have created their own masterpieces. My piece is called Hollyhocks Reinterpreted.  Reinterpreted through the study of the work created by John LaFarge and Norval Morrisseau.  I thought that I would share about each stage of my research and development.  Below is a collage of my work process. (A PDF file is available)

   PDF file of Work Process

  1.  Visiting Crystal Bridges, I visited The Art for A New Understanding was being exhibited in the South Wing.  I was captured by Norval Morrisseau’s The Story Teller: An Artists and His Grandfather.the I was drawn to this piece because of the simplified shapes and the bold colors and directional lines.  Although I did not incorporate the story telling components in my own piece, I learned how powerful directional lines could be to convey a conversation between the objects.
  2. John La Farge’s Hollyhock painting is one of my favorites at Crystal Bridges.  I like the composition and vertical format.  The depth and richness of color pulls very earthy.  It is an encaustic painting and I understand how working with wax is an amazing art form.  I paint so many florals that I know I can become bored or even over confident in my ability to paint them quickly.  Studying this piece allowed me to boost my creativity with floral art.
  3. I found an old canvas sign that I recycled for this project.  The sign cost me $40 to print for a creative experience event.   It was a perfect size for the hollyhocks.  Before I start a new piece, if I am feeling anxious or uptight about a challenge, I will start the new painting with a series of words.  In this case, I was processing the loss of several friends and artists to cancer.  I also was processing the need to find additional studio space.  Many of the phrases that I wrote on the blank canvas, allowed me to vent my frustrations in a safe place before covering the canvas with paint.
  4. I quickly covered the canvas with some Amsterdam soft body paints.   Working quickly allows me to focus on the composition especially when working on a larger piece.  This canvas is taller than I am, so I needed to use a step stool while I worked.
    • Sometimes I will let the words show through, but for this piece I wanted to build some positive energy over the chaos of the words.
    • I found a strong vertical composition similar to the one used by John La Farge.
    • I simplified the shapes of the flowers inspired by the simple forms found Norval Morrisseau’s piece.
    • The colors I chose were based on the colors available in my Amsterdam paint collection.  I found myself bridging between the bright bold colors of Morrisseau and the muted pastels of La Farge.
    • I also began deciding how many flowers I would use in my composition.  There are 5 main shapes representing black flowers.  At one point I had 11 shapes but decided to simplify the composition and only use 5 core flowers.
  5. For awhile I played with the outlining technique that Morrisseau uses to connect his shapes.  In the end, I kept the connecting lines but neutralized the outlines by allowing the pink and blue outlines to be more important part of the background rather than using the outlines to be a part of the flower.
  6. I wonder if I gravitated towards the color black for my flowers because of the unexpected loss during December.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions.  You are also more than welcome to join me on one of my visits to Crystal Bridges.  You can find me exploring the museum and working on paperwork at one of the tables at Eleven.

Karen Ahuja Signature


Additional Information about the inspiration pieces I chose to study.

Norval Morrisseau, The Storyteller: The Artist and His Grandfather, 1978
Acrylic on canvas, diptych: each panel 176.3 x 96.6 cm
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Aboriginal Art Collection, Gatineau
Additional Information available at Norval Morrisseau’s website


John La Farge
ca. 1864-1865
Encaustic On Panel, 60 x 17 3/4 in.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Additional Information about John Lafarge’s HollyHocks

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