During a long stay in a borrowed studio in Paris, I bought most of what I needed in the local street market. One week, I was stunned by the damascene beauty of a cluster of hyacinth bulbs, nestled in a straw basket, their skins pulsing with amethyst, ruby, lavender, ochre, magenta and purple tints. I bought three. Each was carefully selected for the radiance of its colours, designs on the skins and other signs of paintability under the amused but unsurprised gaze of the stallholder. Ah, les crazy ros- bifs !
Back at the studio, I decided that the only way to honour their exuberance was to use a hand-held lens and make a magnified watercolour painting. I had often noticed exquisite snails meandering in and out of the Passiflora whose warm peachy/orange fruits resembled coloured lights with leafy tendrils as they bounced and swayed in the sunshine along the branches gracing the courtyard walls below. In an unexpected leap, I envisaged this painting with one of the most elegantly coloured snails moving jauntily away, satisfied to have broken through the hyacinth’s scaly skin to the juicy flesh beyond.
I hoped to show in this image that, although we tend to think of hyacinths as desirable and snails as, well, beyond the pale, each has equal beauty and value. While working on this painting, I was astonished at the miniscule changes in the interior of the bulb – revealed only when enough skin is removed. So, in this painting, the snail has enabled us to see something unexpected and normally concealed from us – the slow infusion of evolving colour up the tiny forming flower buds hidden deep within. © Frances Livingstone 2018