It’s not every day that a celebrated artist stops by and asks to paint your garden. But that’s just what happened, almost a year ago to the day, when plein-air painter Carol Koutnik visited our farm with a vision for her next project.
Carol has been our wonderful friend and faithful Farm Share customer for many years. She told us she was initially inspired by the food she received each week, “food worthy of painting”. She said the freshly-picked vegetables began to stir memories of her uncle’s beautiful garden from her childhood in Chicago, that she visited often as a child.
But she grew up as a military kid, then as a married woman, moving all over the world but never in one place long enough to plant a garden. That garden from her childhood grew in memory until she needed to capture it in paint. We showed Koutnik around our gardens, and she used it as a springboard for something extraordinary.
Now, this weekend, at the Rockport Center for the Arts, Carol Koutnik will unveil her latest exhibit, “The Fantastic Garden”. This collection features forty diverse works of art: oil paintings, fortune-tellers, graphite sketches, and clay images. The art is simply breathtaking. The work focuses on many vegetables from the garden, but best of all, Koutnik features cabbages.
I knew these cabbages, or at least thought I did. I planted them painstakingly from seed, coaxed them to maturity for ninety long days, and watched their tender hearts form in the center.
These forms are what attracted Koutnik to the garden, and what she captures so brilliantly in her work: the unfolding heart, with all its secrets, with all of its creative power.
Her colors are surreal; the light and shadow a revelation—it’s not the plant, but the spirit of the plant she sees. I looked at those cabbages a hundred times from my hands and knees, as I scanned the plants daily for cabbage loopers and cutworms, but I never got even a glimpse of what Koutnik saw.
David Hill, Adjunct Instructor of Art at Texas A&M—Corpus Christi, offered a glowing review of the exhibit. Hill explains that the cabbages are not artistic symbols, but instead they are “living things that remind [the artist] of nurturing, mystery, maturity, and fecundity.” Hill says the work is an “experience of cabbages, the experience of curiosity and marvel.”
Those humble cabbages are now five feet wide up on the canvas. Koutnik has transformed them into something entirely new, something timeless. They are now the process of creation itself, the energy of the earth blooming in the paint on her canvas, the secrets in the heart of the cabbage, in the heart of the artist, unfolding, opening in ever-expanding leaves of color.
Now, this garden belongs to everyone. Now it belongs to you.
You can see “The Fantastic Garden” of Carol Koutnik this Saturday, April 8, at the Rockport Center for the Arts, the same day and starting place as the Rockport Tour of Homes. Koutnik will give a gallery talk at 4:30pm on Sat, April 8th. The exhibit runs through May 13th.