The patio outside the gallery space at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s new Pritzlaff Conservation Center boasts a view of the Channel Islands that’s nearly as incredible as the magical realist paintings by Cynthia James now on view inside. Taking full advantage of the abundant natural light of the space, the paintings in The Secret Life of Flowers glow from within, thanks to a technique that involves applying oil paint directly to lightly sanded copper plates. In a composition such as “Heave,” this means that the orange pistil of the large blue flower brightens toward its center, pulling the eye into the same vortex that attracts James’s fanciful parade of bees.
Like the great American original Georgia O’Keeffe, James takes pleasure in re-creating dazzling patterns from botanical nature as whorls of color on a flat surface. Through the introduction of fantasy elements, such as imagined versions of extinct flowers or synchronized swarms of bees and birds, James introduces a new note to the tradition, one that reminds us all of the awesome responsibility we now bear for the stewardship of a natural inheritance too long taken for granted.
Cynthia James’s The Secret Life of Flowers is on view at the Pritzlaff Conservation Center Gallery of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (1212 Mission Canyon Rd.) through November 26. For information, see sbbg.org.