top of page

The Blossoming Artistic Career of South Florida Artist Carol Calicchio By Bruce Helander

Carol Calicchio’s noteworthy success as an interpretive painter of flowers is a testament to her remarkable studio dedication and a lifelong enthusiasm for nature in general, especially animals and flowers. Calicchio follows a respected tradition of artists who utilize flora as an imaginative motivating subject as well as maintaining a distinctive, recognizable style of colorful mark-making as she continues to explore the vibrant living subjects that have inspired artists for centuries. Painters have been seduced by the splendor of the environment and the stark beauty of landscapes for generations, often accenting their compositions with colorful collections of flowers. For hundreds of years, richly hued plants often served as a muse for painters from Matisse to Monet, who were attracted to the intrinsic allure of blooming bouquets and the endless thematic opportunities that they offered a skilled and observant eye. Calicchio is no exception as demonstrated in her recent exhibit at The Palm Beach Show art fair in February.

Almost every artist who has made a name for themselves can look back at early influences particularly from family members who not only cheered on their creativity but demonstrated the additional visual benefits of mixing and matching elements that already possessed an intrinsic aesthetic animate spirit. Artists have been attracted to bouquets of flowers with an enjoyable magnetism that transfers their vision to canvas.  It’s paradoxical that big, beautiful blooms begin as tiny seeds that need to be nourished and protected for months as they sprout towards maturity. The bright blooms are designed to attract insects who in turn pollinate the plant and perpetuate the species. Carol Calicchio was fortunate to be nurtured through example by a mother who was enthusiastic about the qualities of the surrounding countryside and especially its gardens. Dale Chihuly’s best known and internationally celebrated series, “Gardens of Glass,” was initially prompted by his mother Viola, who encouraged her young son to realize the visual values in nature and the joys of landscape embellishment. There also are dozens of documented stories about contemporary artists who not only received support from a parental garden lover but were urged to appreciate the astonishing and often stark natural beauty of flowers. Calicchio luckily received tutelage at an early age where being surrounded by flowers was a natural and quite positive part of her adolescence and became a benchmark for her eventual career.

History can point to the same kind of positive parental stimulation to artists from Leonardo da Vinci to René Magritte. Picasso’s father was a drawing teacher who influenced one of Pablo’s first flower sketches. It didn’t take long for artists to find an innovative way to incorporate flowers into portraits. As early as 1563, the Italian court painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo began concocting imaginative portraits of familiar faces made entirely of images of organic objects and a delicious mix of intermingled flowers that became whimsical puzzle-like curiosities to amuse the court, but also were among the artist’s most prominent works. During the reign of Queen Victoria, England’s upper class began delivering secret messages by way of discreet flower deliveries that could signal flirtation, friendship, or regretful embarrassment. Pink roses sent the message that your love should be kept a secret. Accordingly, a flower also became symbolic of romance, an idea of which artists took full advantage.

There are about 400,000 varieties of flowers on the planet, so it is a challenge for Calicchio to sift through countless shapes and color combinations, each with their own name and classification as compositional candidates. At the end of the day, she selects images for a master plan to provide a delicious portfolio of luminous canvases that show off her distinctive application of abstract strokes derived from flower forms that together present distinctive and idiosyncratic configurations that blend old-world tradition with contemporary spirit and a dash of panache.

Calicchio follows a historic fraternity of successful artists who have been inspired by the innate beauty of blooms in a variety of circumstances. The legendary painter Vincent van Gogh featured flowers in many of his works, most notably “Irises” and his famed 1888 painting, “Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers.” Pablo Picasso was not one to miss out on capturing the inherent beauty of flower forms, and his first work acquired by the Tate gallery in London was a painting titled “Flowers,” even though this modern master was exploring revolutionary Cubist concepts at the time, the museum’s trustees were resisting the more radical developments in modern art.

Accordingly, Carol Calicchio’s recent series of charming arrangements utilizing a bloom’s inherent incentive follows a grand tradition of artists who exploited unforgettable floral configurations that blended the new with the old. Gustav Klimt’s work titled “Bauerngarten” (1907) is a memorable example as well as Claude Monet’s series of over 200 canvases of flowers from his gardens in Giverny and also is responsible for the gorgeous blue-purple carpet of glorious water lilies blooming on a pond’s surface. Twenty years later Georgia O’Keeffe portrayed close-up interpretations of flowers that often were considered controversial at the time for their subliminal erotic references.

During the Victorian era, women were dissuaded to look closely at an orchid’s shape as it was feared to be too overtly sexual. Frida Kahlo, another eminent female artist, frequently incorporated flowers into her compositions and most often wore fresh cut flowers in her hair. (Sounds like a hit song if you’re going to San Francisco.) Matisse was a master of collage-like cutouts of flower forms followed much later by Andy Warhol’s daring silkscreen paintings of multiple hibiscus flowers. Other contemporary artists who use flower forms in their work include Alex Katz, Marc Quinn and Damien Hirst. Jeff Koons, never to be outdone, constructed a huge, towering sculpture in the shape of a puppy out of thousands of flowers, which is now in a permanent outdoor installation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

So, much to Calicchio’s credit, she has found a new perspective on the depiction of flower arrays with a resourceful abstract expressionist approach, applying gestures that at times are reminiscent of a bursting nighttime display of fireworks that explode and gently drift to the surface. 

Calicchio’s most recent book, titled “Flower Power,” is a beautiful hardcover documentation of her early artistic development and influences and a grand portfolio of her recent decades of significant inventiveness. This 120-page publication is a testament to her committed studio work and an insight into her pictorial drive, hardworking background and ongoing professionalism. With essays by the renowned British art critic Anthony Haden-Guest and Los Angeles writer Elizabeth Sobieski, an informative perspective on Calicchio couldn’t be better. Her recent book signing in Palm Beach was an amazing event with hundreds of art lovers attending, and all of the books completely sold out to her collectors and followers. “Flower Power” currently is being reprinted in Belgium and will be available in select bookstores soon. 

From the first chapter of this engaging publication to the beautiful back cover image of a brilliant single abstract flower, the artist presents a stunning collection of blossoming abstract flower configurations. “Flower Power” was conceived by award-winning designer Dan Ellis, who has produced books for the Whitney Museum of American Art as well as the Coral Springs Museum of Art and Yellowstone Art Museum, among others. In the case of Calicchio’s work, Ellis’ design handsomely portrays an enchanting and festive garden party of floral configurations and earthly delights.

With springtime just around the corner, the old saying “April showers bring May flowers” seems especially timely for artist Carol Calicchio (whose birthday is also in May) as she progresses into a limitless season of flourishing subject matter that lately has put her front and center in full bloom as an important emerging artist on the South Florida art world scene.

Bruce Helander is an artist who writes on art. He is a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and is a former White House Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been a regular contributor to The Huffington Post as well as WhiteHot Magazine of Contemporary Art. His latest books are “Hunt Slonem: Bunnies” and “Chihuly: An Artist Collects (Abrams, Inc.) His work is in over fifty museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Helander is also an avid gardener and orchid expert.


Filter Posts

bottom of page