“To make these mandala images, I use a scanner like a large-format camera. I lay flowers directly onto it, allowing pollen and other flower stuff to fall onto the glass and become part of the image.”
—Portia Munson, explaining her creative process
The horticulture of Bryant Park has been inverted, now appearing below ground. During the bleak New York winter we need cheering up. At West 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, where the B, D, F, M and #7 trains carry passengers uptown and to Queens, as well as downtown and to Brooklyn, you will find a spot of spring on the mezzanine level of the subway station below Bryant Park. There a bright and inviting display of blooming art can be enjoyed.
Titled Botanicals Below Bryant Park, by artist Portia Munson, it is part of the MTA’s Arts and Design light box project. The seven-panel, wall-size photographs are mounted in boxed frames that illuminate the flowers’ vibrant colors. Someone could be forgiven for mistaking the photographs for paintings; I did!
Using foxglove, dahlia, milkweed, dandelions, forget-me-nots, cosmos, impatience, daffodils, daisies, geraniums, peonies, mums, clovers and irises Ms. Munson, formerly from Sea Cliff, Long Island, was inspired by her grandmother’s garden there. Now an Upstate New York resident, she picks flowers from her own garden, which has grown to more than an acre. She arranges them in mesmerizing geometric circular patterns. She must work quickly to photograph her arrangements before the flowers are less than photogenic.
“I pick them before they wilt and arrange them thinking about the incredible symmetric possibilities of these flowers and their amazing structure.”
—Ms. Munson, on her appreciation of Mother Nature’s art
“She was an avid gardener and I remembered her garden in Sea Cliff, which always had beautiful flowers and trees. I remember the cherry blossoms and peonies in the spring.”
—Ms. Munson, about her gardening grandmother
Ms. Munson studied fine art at Cooper Union in the East Village. She started to garden when she moved to the Catskills; it helped her to make the transition into country living. And her photographs of rainbow-colored flowers help to brighten the transition through an otherwise dreary subway station for the harried commuters.
Her layouts of the flowers resemble the stained glass windows in cathedrals and churches. “I think the architects of those great churches were inspired by nature like these flowers,” Ms. Munson has said. The large, round, stained-glass windows traditionally above the main front entrance to cathedrals are called Rose Windows after all. Flowers, she believes, are synonymous with celebrating life, helping people feel positive, sending out good vibrations.
“When the high-resolution scans are enlarged, amazing details and natural structures emerge. Every flower mandala is unique to a moment in time and represents what is in bloom on the day I made it.”
—Ms. Munson, on the timing of each photograph
Ms. Munson began creating flower images in 2002 because, as she walked through her garden, she was reminded of mandalas, the suzani textiles from Uzbekistan, and garlands of fresh blossoms that she saw while traveling in Asia. She arranges the flowers in the mandala pattern. This is the circular form that represents the universe for those who follow Far Eastern religions. She purposely combines color and form to exaggerate the energy of each. The photos represent a specific moment in time, because the flowers were picked, arranged and photographed in season.
Ms. Munson has incorporated flowers into another permanent art installation of laminated glass commissioned by the MTA’s Arts & Design Department for Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton Parkway’s D train subway station. Subway art comes in different sizes media, mostly glass tile mosaic, the “eternal art” according to Michelangelo. Please join our Subway Art Tour. We survey 10 subway stations, each with outstanding artwork you can touch; some of it is 111 years old!