Flower power - The Explorer: El Sol

Flower power

Northwest artist's creations bloom larger than life

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Posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:02 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Visiting Candace Greenburg’s home is like stepping into a giant garden.

Poppies and lilies tower on large canvasses. A simple collection of leaves is a floor-to-ceiling affair.

The point of the Northwest artist’s efforts is to give the natural world a shot at closer viewing.

“I think I just wanted people to notice nature,” she said. “It’s hard for humans to appreciate something really small.”

Greenburg’s plant depictions will be on big display at ArtsFest 2008. The event, offered through the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, will take place the weekend of Oct. 18 and 19 and will feature the work of more than 150 artists in media such as clay, fabrics, paint and, in Greenburg’s case, solar photogram.

A photogram isn’t a photograph, exactly. It does involve light-sensitive paper, but it can’t capture the image of a lily. Rather, Greenburg says, it carries something of the lily’s essence.

“The image becomes something other than the flower, itself,” she said. “It blurs those boundaries, which I think is neat in art.”

The process works like this: You wet a piece of photographic paper, lay it in the sun and quickly arrange objects on top of it. Images begin to form where light hits the paper directly or seeps through semi-translucent spots.

Then, you bathe the paper in vinegar, perhaps, or take a hairdryer to certain spots – anything to bring interesting changes to the paper’s chemistry.

As a last step, you scan the results on a high-quality printer and watch as colors emerge on your computer screen that you didn’t even notice on the paper.

“It is so magical,” Greenburg said. “I love that you can’t predict what you’ll see.”

Greenburg’s fascination with solar photogram art sprang from an involvement with more traditional photography. For years, the artist spent time capturing images from nature and giving them new life in print. She loved creating art. She didn’t love waiting for her film to develop.

Then, about four years ago, Greenburg read an article about an artist in Berkeley, Calif., who used bright flashes of light to imprint shadows from vases directly onto light-sensitive paper. Just moments after the flash, images started to form.

“This felt more interactive to me,” Greenburg said. “I wanted to see something right away.”

Greenburg shut herself in a closet with a sheet of photo paper and a camera flash and aimed for similar results. When that didn’t work — her flash lacked sufficient power — she decided to make her own path and take her endeavors outdoors.

Against an inspiring backdrop of mountains in her Picture Rocks-area backyard, Greenburg laid her wet paper in the sun, arranged objects on it and watched purplish shadows emerge.

The shadows had character, but they didn’t seem finished, so Greenburg fished for ideas about what else to do. When she settled on scanning, and unexpected colors came through, she knew she’d stumbled upon a promising medium.

“I was amazed,” she said.

From there, she fooled around with adaptations, adding ingredients she found in her kitchen. Coarse sea salt created interesting patterns on her paper, she discovered, because so much light could get through it. Pepper didn’t work as well.

Greenburg took her creations to a printer and had them magnified to fit on large canvasses that grace her home, other people’s homes and gallery walls.

Seven days after ArtsFest 2008, her work will appear at the St. Philip’s Art Show, which opens at 8 a.m. at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church at the northeast corner of River Road and Campbell Avenue. Her work also is part of the Tucson Pima Arts Council’s open studio tour, which runs two weeks starting Thursday, Oct. 23.

One of her solar photograms adorns a collector’s edition of wine bottled at the Les Bourgeois winery in Rochport, Mo.

Greenburg hopes to start a class in the future to teach her technique to others. Already, the Tucson Pima Arts Council gives her a grant to teach art and poetry at Desert Winds Elementary and Picture Rocks Intermediate schools.

For now, she’s busy exploring her kitchen cabinets, looking for more ingredients to add to her art. Each new art piece, she said, involves discovery.

“They have their own sense of what they are, and I can’t change it,” she said. “They morph themselves, but I’m not going to be able to push them into anything they’re not.”

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