People who are good with plants feel magical to me, like they are better at life than most of us.
I have kept two plants alive in my life and killed the rest. One was a gift from my boss that I gave away before I moved back to Portland. The other is on my living room window sill.
I planted tulip bulbs with my mom and sister in third grade. We moved before we saw them bloom. My friend Carolyn saved my first dead fern. My mom took a small piece of the aloe plant I killed and grew a monster that saved me from sunburns in college. My first cactus liquefied and I threw out the whole thing, pot and all, the way I used to toss Tupperware full of moldy food.
The doorbell rings, and it’s a delivery of one more basil plant. I killed the last one with too much water and the one before it because I got tired of the fruit flies. I grew the top of a sweet potato plant in water once and it died after I put it in a jar full of dirt. No one wants to be buried.
Why do so many people love houseplants? Is it because they bring the outdoors in? Because they bring a sense of satisfaction? Is it because all other green things feel vaguely artificial?
Even before the world became foreign to us all in 2020, plants are a solace. COVID-19 came in 2020, and plants became a kind of salvation. Plants calm us as we populate our homes like ants after a rainstorm who don’t know where else to go. We are only sure that we want to live.
I’m painting plants because I cannot grow them.
Because I want to feel sane. Because when I’m stoned my bed feels like an ocean and I’m afraid I will drown.
I’ve spent my entire career as an artist trying to draw connections between my obsessions and trying to apply logic to the alternate worlds that I build and breed. I am easily obsessed and want to emulate those I admire, to hang out my neuroses and bring them to scale so we can shake hands. There is so much to be afraid of right now, and so many boundaries to bend.
These COVID gardens are paintings I can live beside. They help me feel held by an imaginary world and create a place I can melt into when the world is too loud.
I understand if that’s not interesting to you, it’s not especially interesting to me either.
But what do we have besides our own stories as this world ends and another begins? Who are we to build our own vocabularies and drink in the sun? Who are we to lose ourselves in baking shows as people die?
So I’m stealing the plants of my friends and neighbors.
I’m painting the plants from the restaurants that will never reopen. I’m staging them on balconies that can’t support my weight.
After all, how do our obsessions shape us? How do we decide what to hold on to? Plants look like safety. They look like the parents we think we will be before we experience parenting. Plants are pets that don’t piss on the bed in the middle of the night.
Houseplants are the easiest projects to finish. They don’t haunt us like smug relatives looking for flaws or college memories we’d rather forget.
Plants have lives that we covet. They are perfect houses and jogging buddies, yoga retreats and the cinnamon buns that are worth waiting in a long line for. Plants are late-in-life marriages, cruises to Alaska, and creme brulee. Plants will remain long after we are gone.
Plants are something you can kill without punishment. Gardens are our smartest flaws and our grandest plans laid out in a pageant on the kitchen table. They bend toward the light coming in the window. Plants dance in the breeze from the heater and they drop leaves on the table and floor, gently shaming me for my neglect.
With these paintings I can grow things.
I may fail but I have all these garden lives at my disposal. These paintings fill my home with green, help me make something live forever. A private world, a melancholy comedy, and scattered petals coat the floor.
A COVID Garden, my armor and sanctuary.