MY FIRST MEMORY IN LIFE is of flowers. At a very young age, before I even had language, the flowers spoke to me and planted a seed that has grown and flourished ever since.
As a child growing up in rural Illinois in the 1970s, our backyard was one big blooming jungle of flowers and vegetables, thanks to my mom’s green thumb and dad’s creativity. One midsummer afternoon, at the age of two, I entered mom’s flower garden, toddling directly into the center of the Zinnia patch.
Once I entered the Zinnias, the garden closed behind me and the rest of the world receded. I was not afraid. I never had been more excited! Globes of red, yellow, white, purple and green bobbed and floated overhead. The flowers were like glowing angels circling my body in lazy silent orbits.
For an instant that seemed to go on for hours, I stood still, totally entranced. My new angel friends danced, sang, and spoke to me in their wordless language. The universe and all that was in it was made of pure love. The voice of the flowers was permanently etched into my infant’s mind at a time when I had no words to shape or prejudice the experience.
For the entirety of that winter, I kept the image of those flowers alive in the deepest wells of my heart. As the world iced over, I imagined summer’s coming as a time when I could rejoin my garden friends in color and laughter.
When finally the singing cicadas signaled the return of the hot midsummer days, I ran gleefully to the garden, shouting in ecstasy. But instead of meeting the giant flower friends as I’d imagined, I was shocked to find something else.
The flowers were the same. Mom had planted Zinnias again, but I could not figure out why they only came up to my waist. Instead of walking among them, I found myself looking down at them. How different the experience is. ‘They changed!’ I exclaimed, using my newfound language.
But it was not the flowers that changed. In a year, I had almost doubled my height - and become quite a talker. I was three now. So young, but already pushed out of Eden.
Throughout my life, I’ve taken many roads, but it’s the flowers’ voice that I still hear loudest. I’ve had the fortune to do illustrations for a living, write, work as a journalist, and even blend art with facilitation! For years I exhibited paintings of figures, circus performers, musicians, wild birds, and portraits. I was lucky to see a great deal of the world, and to meet beautiful people everywhere I went.
And throughout it all, I never lost my love for the garden, and my childhood vision of the flowers. They are always talking to me, calling me back. Even today, their voice is the one I trust most.
Until about ten years ago, flowers were just another one of the many things I painted. But in 2005, I made the decision to go to the gardens and paint flowers as a formal daily practice. I wanted to reconnect with the floral voice I’d heard as an infant. I wanted the flowers guidance and light in my life again.
At that time, Matthew Matsuyama, a world class floral design artist and my greatest teacher came into my life. With his guidance, I began painting close ups of individual flowers as though they were subjects sitting for portraits. The experience of painting flowers as a daily formal practice strengthened my connection with the sublime voice I’d I that reached out to me at the age of two.
It’s funny – none of the flowers I painted were intended for exhibition. They were for love only. For years I gave them as gifts, sent them as postcards, painted them in gift-books, and gave them to the dearest people in my life.
It never occurred to me that anyone beside Matthew and my circle of friends and family would ever care for them. They were certainly not the kind of thing I’d expect to see at an art exhibit or in print.
When Matthew died, I was distraught. I didn’t know if I’d ever paint flowers again, and I stopped for almost a year. I might not have gone on painting if it had not been for two very important people. They showed me the path back to love.
One of them was my own dad. Together we went to parks to spend long days together. I would sit thinking about painting the flowers, imagining what it would be like to paint again, and sometimes I would even paint! Through it all I was safe because dad was right there, waiting patiently for me until I could bring myself to paint.
The other person was a Spanish artist, a singer who I had admired for years, Rosario Flores. Apart from Rosario’s positive, magical flower songs, the example of her life gave me enormous hope and strength. She is an artist who creates from honesty, love, and light, even during times in life that I can only imagine to have been unbearable. The musicians she sings with, like Mayte Pizzaro Garcia, are equally gracious and warm, and create a garden of light on stage. I will always feel connected with her through the voice of the flowers, and a piece of her golden light is in every painting I make.
Eventually, I found that regardless of life’s joys and sorrows, my place in the world is in the garden, painting flowers, following their voice and guidance. I began painting flowers again, and it was greatly healing, but I never imagined the paintings finding a home outside the gardens.
Then, just three years ago, in January 2011, that changed. I was painting one of Mr. Kim’s many amazing spring flowers in the early morning in the Gardens at Lake Merritt, when Tora Rocha and Peter Collier, two of the head gardeners, approached me. There would be an exhibit in the Gardens later in the spring. It would be a group art show of garden themed painters. Would I join?
The opportunity to exhibit in the same gardens I painted in was too great to pass up. Even if it was the only exhibit I ever did, I loved the thought of roses shown next to the bush where they grew, and all the flowers, gardeners, and flower lovers enjoying the paintings right there in the garden.
By the time the June exhibit arrived, I had painted almost eighty flowers. My dear friend and poet Juan Pablo Gutierrez supported my painting every day by writing a poem for each flower as I painted them. Juan Pablo’s poems gave me insight and a new way to approach my own painting. We published ‘The Language of the Flowers – El Lenguaje de las Flores’ for the event. The book is a tribute to the sublime force that had brought flowers and poetry together. The book is still available, it’s at www.kevinsbookshop.com
Following the success of that first show, I’ve been fortunate to exhibit regularly with artists here in Oakland. Kyle Vuong literally carried my paintings from gallery to gallery. Without your help, Kyle, I’d never have exhibited a second time!
At exhibits, I reached out and enjoyed meeting people who’s love for flowers continues to inspire me. I spent two years as a regular exhibitor at Oakland’s world famous Art Murmur at Uptown Body and Fender with margo Rivera-Weiss and Giovanna Tanzillo. I feel that the people who found the flowers at those exhibits were shaped me and helped me grow by sharing their own flower stories.
In 2013 my flowers went to Taiwan. I held a solo exhibit and connected with a very enthusiastic and spiritual audience at International Flower Essence Center in Taipei. At the Flower Essence Center, and in spiritual practices throughout the world, flowers like the ones I paint are a key part of healing.
Taiwan is a very special place for my flowers. I never imagined such a positive reception for my paintings. Its as if people in Taiwan also communicated with flowers in their infancy.
Later this year in Taiwan, in addition to exhibits in Taipei and around the country, I will publish a deck of Inner Child Healing Garden Cards. The cards are the brainchild of author and light worker Mophael. My paintings and brief flower meditations are paired with Mophael’s exercises and insights into healing the Inner Child.
Once the Healing Garden Cards are out, I will turn my attention to a follow-up book, featuring flowers and spiritual writings from this year, presented like visual flower essences. And I know with the support of Po Lun Yeh, Greta Lee, and the International Flower Essence Center, Taipei, my exciting journey in Taiwan and Asia has just begun!
I’m grateful to everyone who has ever come to an exhibit, who plans to come to an exhibit, or who just enjoys, likes, comments and shares the flowers here online. I’ve connected with great artists, performers, gardeners, and healers around the world. What a magical adventure the flowers are leading me on! I’ve even met men, similar to me, who make a daily ritual out of painting flowers. Oh, one day to unite our international flower friendship in a grand group exhibit!!!
But whether you paint, grow, photograph, or just enjoy the flowers, we are all tuned in to something greater through your love. The voice of the sublime continues to speak through all of us. Flowers love the attention they receive when they are being painted! They love when their energy extends from the garden and hangs in your house, in a museum, or in a healing center. The great sublime voice in the painting carries on long after the bloom itself has gone to Flower Heaven.
Please join me here and in the future! All the upcoming events in the Bay Area and around the world will be posted on my Flowers homepage at kevinwoodson.com.
Although I have signed other artworks with my English name, I use a Japanese rendering of ‘Kevin’ to sign the flowers. The name is a tribute to my greatest teacher, Matthew Matsuyama.
Although phonetically it is not exactly ‘Kevin,’ my signature can roughly be pronounced ‘ke-jin’ in Japanese. The first character, ke, is a homonym for the word ‘flower.’ The second character, jin, is ‘person.’ The combination of characters results in ‘Florid Person.’ Even though the translation varies outside of Japan, no name could be better. I’m grateful to my Mandarin-speaking flower lovers for accepting the slightly-different meanings behind the same characters!
Matthew desired that I should have a Japanese signature as his student. We collaborated with GIE, a talented florist in Japan, to create this name. It is a name I will always sign with respect love for the memory of Matthew, who will always be a part of me and of every flower.