The catalog essay below was prepared for the Lowell Nesbitt retrospective held at the Louis Newman Galleries (Beverly Hills) in 1987. I am told the essay pleased the artist and I know for a fact that Mr. Louis Newman was satisfied with both the essay content and the response from his clientele and Nesbitt collectors. For this reason, I am reproducing the article here without update or modification.
The flower “represents the voice of all nature.”1 To Lowell Nesbitt, one of America’s leading representational painters, the painting of flowers offers the boundless challenges of color, form, structure and the substantive issues commonly associated with landscape and anatomical art.
Lowell Nesbitt’s genius is not, however, applied exclusively to the flower, although it is the bold contemporary flower paintings with which his name is associated internationally and upon which a portion of his fame is built.
Born in 1933, Lowell Nesbitt studied at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University. At the age of twenty, he was an apprentice set designer at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, then a popular laboratory for talented playwrights and summering New York Repertory companies. At twenty-three, he won two coveted prizes from the Baltimore Museum of Art (1956), which led to his first major solo exhibition held at the museum in 1958. He attended the Royal College of Art, London, England (1955-56), studying stained glass. He entered the U.S. Army upon his return to the United States.
Early on, Nesbitt’s strong, painterly, sculptural instincts were evident. Consisting of painterly abstractions, the Baltimore show was a success. Even though he had moved to representational painting by 1964, the artist’s ambition was still to “paint forms not surfaces.” 2
“Two Red and Yellow Tulips – ‘77/’78” (illustrated cover) betrays the primary aesthetic formulations of the artist’s power. Scaled to monumental proportion, eighty by one hundred inches, this is an intimate, close-up view in which the shape and form are richly rendered in flurries of controlled, vigorous brushwork. These flower forms are often set against a richly painted backdrop of variegated color.
First signaled by the “Flower Abstraction” series (1964), the flower paintings of Lowell Nesbitt are at once delicately painted and bold, vividly colored, then again subtle. The artist’s particular gift is to merge these disparate properties into a singularly unified statement. Although often compared to Georgia O’Keefe’s famous flower paintings, the artists’ works are dissimilar in several key factors. O’Keefe, for example, paints volume in relative chiaroscuro, often with dissonant contrasts in hue and value. On the other hand, Nesbitt creates his drama through closely keyed combinations of real colors (that is, the actual colors of the flowers). Also, Nesbitt utilizes a seductive, magical, theatrical light, which renders the form and shape with uncommon clarity. From the beginning, Nesbitt has demonstrated painterly inner structure, hard edge outline, against his delicate, sensuous brushwork.
“Fruit on a Checkered Rug – ‘78”, illustrated in this catalogue, carries forth another creative agenda in the artist’s work. In a complex psychological theater, inanimate objects assume anthropomorphic characteristics. The pieces of fruit take on personalities and attitudes. Some appear lazy and casual, others stand at attention. Some are helpless and inert, others eager to wander backstage to some sensual spot. Placed in a field comprised of a rectangular checkerboard center medallion, the center stage is bordered by a broken abstract. This psychological factor, present, but less obvious in the flower paintings, is not unlike the effect found in Nesbitt’s “Fruit and Vegetables on a Kilim Rug” and “Box with Twelve Bulbs” (both in this exhibition).
The anthropomorphic and theatrical suggestion is not new to the artist’s work. In his first flower painting, completed in 1964, Nesbitt sought to humanize the subject. The human presence was suggested by the artist’s rendition of the flower set against versions of the human pelvis and hip, which he had observed in X-rays. This early work has been regarded by certain critics as a key to the sensual, organic imagery that followed in his work.
The human implied tension or theatricality can be observed in “Ten Lemons – ’78,” “Green and Brown Orchid – ’81,” and “Two Red and Yellow Tulips – ’77-’78.” Here certain plants, flowers or fruit, are perceived by the viewer to be dominant or aggressive and others disinterested and passive. Also, we can see a kinship of the flower and fruit allusions to the beastiaries of Hieronymus Bosch and Pavel Tchelitchew. It is for this reason, I suspect, the artist has occasionally been incorrectly called a Surrealist. Part of the motivation to this erroneous critical analysis may be owed to Nesbitt’s exhibition of dream-like landscapes which embody a similar sense of seductive mystery and subdued tension, coupled with the magical, theatrical light which strikes and renders the forms.
“Nesbitt’s Choice: A Survey From Lowell Nesbitt’s Private Collection,” offers a rare glimpse of an artist’s treasury of seminal works, until now held back by the artist as a way of possessing some of his best. Inspired moments which irretrievably capture the artist’s creative process. “Nesbitt’s Choice” functions as a kind of autobiography of the evolution and development of the artist’s insight and artistic means. A veritable compendium of the artist’s revelations collected in the artist’s 18,000 square foot studio in New York City’s West Village, this collection spans the most productive period of one of the nation’s leading artists.
“I usually work on two to seven paintings per session because of the drying time required for oil paint.” 3 Procedurally, he works very quickly, owing to adroit draftsmanship and skillful brush handling. Working on coarse toothed linen, he rapidly obscures preliminary pencil drawing with vollies of color, coaxed from the fourteen color palette he employs. Working with brushes one-quarter-inch to one-inch wide to lay in color, he then employs a four-inch sable blender to bring the image into soft focus. After the painting is dry, Nesbitt then brings the image into sharper and sharper focus. Since 1958, the artist estimates that this technical bravura accounts for a productivity rate akin Picasso, Matisse and Robert Motherwell.
“Nesbitt’s Choice” reveals one man’s perception of himself, humanity and nature. In the exhibit, he sets forth the inventions of the journey, the result of his inquiry into order and chaos. The paintings are testimony to the well-spring of hope and inspiration the artist has found in nature.
— William Hemmerdinger
Los Angeles, 1987
 DiLaurenti, M. New York, Lowell Nesbitt: Secret Gardens, exhibition catalogue, DiLaurenti Gallery, New York, 1986.
2 Simmons Zelenko, lori, American Artist, “Lowell Nesbitt,” May 1984, Vol. 48, Issue 502, p. 65