Stare at a rose long enough, and the curl of its petals, its weaving thorns, enthrall you in a conversation. The roses that first stole my heart were not red; they were a pinkish, yellowy white. I caught them flirting with me from the stands outside the deli on the corner of 62nd and Lexington. I was 14. Rows and rows of all colors readied themselves for Valentine’s Day in New York City, and I painted them a lot.
I have found it a lively feat to capture the flower in paintings.
I fell in love with the roses that were not just red, but every color in between, and over time, sought them out in private and forbidden places. I visited the rose gardens of Saddam’s Palace in Iraq and the Alhambra Palace in Spain. I took rose petals that fell from the bush planted on a friend’s grave. I gently caressed the more wild buds on my mother’s rose bushes in her garden in England, and sometimes suffered a delightful prick.
A few weeks ago, driving through the Andes in Ecuador, staring at the rainforest, I had a vague memory that some of the best roses in the world were grown there. I had recently sold a painting called Sub Rosa to a collector in South Carolina. I was ready to approach the rose again, and mentioned my strange rose quest to my friend Jascivo at Destination Ecuador. He arranged for a tour of Nevado with Miguel Sansur Hoguin.
What we found was the heart of a business processing the longest, long-stemmed roses I had ever seen. They were taller than me and Miguel, the handsome manager and CFO who greeted us saying, “This is the season. We need more — we are sold out and the market is asking for more! We produce in one month three million stems, which means 100,000 per day and this season we are producing 300,000 per day.” Nevado looked like the flower version of Santa’s factory in the season of love.
As I looked around, I saw men and women cutting, clipping, measuring, and packing at the speed of light, so that those towering flowers growing in rows on the farm looked like the carefully packaged bunches we see across New York… from flower shops to Whole Foods. My two feet firmly placed in Ecuador, I stared at a Whole Foods packing label, a Wegmans’ box, and so many other American businesses where all these flowers are sold. I was standing at the foundry of love for the American market on Valentine’s Day. And I was getting inspired. I don’t know when that painting will pop out exactly, but it will. Sometimes just feeding images to the brain produces the unexpected weeks later.
I loved imagining all these bits of manhandled nature traveling thousands of miles to their markets for love. By the way, I have discovered you can order any color rose you want from Nevado and the company will dye them for you. It just takes a week. How very perfect for artists, how very perfect for New Yorkers, and on that note Happy Valentine’s Day.