Sandra Gottlieb: City Tulips

The language of flowers is a tricky one for artists. Delicate blooms have proved irresistible subjects at least since Pompeian muralists frescoed the interiors of their wealthy patrons' villas in ancient times. In 17th-century Holland, certain painters specialized only in canvases of flowers, and more recently personalities as diverse as Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol have put their stamp on distinctive kinds of floral imagery. Just when it seems there is nothing left to say on the subject along comes an artist with a wholly fresh take.

Photographer Sandra Gottlieb was walking in her East Side Manhattan neighborhood last spring when she spied a bed of tulips surrounding a pear tree. Such small flowerbeds planted inside black ironwork enclosures along the sidewalks are not unfamiliar sights for New Yorkers, but something about the quality of the late-morning sunlight falling on delicate petals inspired her to pull out her camera. In the next few hours she took some 350 shots, later distilling the images to 18 for her "City Tulips" series. Inside that one small flowerbed, Gottlieb discovered both high Baroque drama and quietly minimalist beauty. In some of the photos, the petals curl seductively inward, coyly shielding the juicy pistils and stamens, which supply their own suggestive and sexy spectacle. In others, the flowers are spare fields of color—yellow and peach and scarlet—against a dark green ground, delicately edged by a tremulous line. Shadows play a major role in almost all the images, but especially in the first nine of the series, where they have a presence almost as important as that of the petals or other flower parts. What's also remarkable here is the way the photographer caught a sense of the passage of time: we can visually follow the brief lifespan of these blossoms as they pass from early maturity to the beginnings of decay. In just one series, Gottlieb has demonstrated both remarkable powers of observation and a thorough mastery of her medium.

Ann Landi, Artnews
Studio Visit 2008