First Friday pick: ‘Full Bloom’ at Bluestone gallery

“Lotus” by Susan Melrath

When painter Susan Melrath was growing up in Oxford, Pa., her mother worked as a professional floral designer.

“I remember the smell of her hands after work, like fresh greenery. There were always clippers in the glove box, because you never knew when you might find the perfect clipping,” says Melrath, from her studio just outside of Seattle. “I can’t tell you how many times she would slam on the breaks and say, ‘Would you just look at that beautiful Queen Anne’s Lace?’”

Melrath’s latest collection, “Full Bloom,” opens at Bluestone Fine Arts Gallery on Friday. The dozen or so abstract paintings are inspired by the flora of her youth. But between Oxford and Seattle is a 30-year career in art, including many years spent exclusively as a commercial artist and illustrator.

All of Melrath’s work — figurative, landscape, watercolor, sculpture and even custom-designed dog collars — bears the imprint of her career in illustration. And “Bloom” is no different. There is a graphic, almost symmetrical, but playful quality to Melrath’s garden — all qualities of a good illustration.

But she didn’t get there right away. There were many months of struggling to express her emotional connection to nature.

“Early on I was doing realistic watercolors. But they just looked like every other watercolor of flowers you’ve ever seen,” she says. “I just felt like I needed a more authentic approach. I wanted to find how I felt about the flowers rather than just duplicating what I was seeing.”

Inspiration was finally delivered through her iPhone: An app called “Brushes” allowed her to toy endlessly with abstract design and color. While none of her phone compositions turned into specific paintings, a spark was definitely struck.

“It was so much fun! And I thought, why can’t I do that on a canvas?” she explains. “Suddenly, I was painting more spontaneously … Just like my mother arranges her flowers, I’m arranging these colors and shapes on a canvas.”

‘Full Bloom’
Paintings by Susan Melrath
Opening reception March 7, 5–9 p.m.
Artist reception March 8, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Bluestone Fine Arts Gallery
142 N. 2nd St.
Free, 856-979-7588

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