Lilies typically bloom in late spring or early summer, but in Stoney Conley’s painting collection, A Lily Blooms in Winter, the laws of nature do not apply. Stirring beneath the ground, taking root, and against all odds, a lily grows and blooms.
Filling a wall in the back of O’Neill Library, the collection is divided into three sections (14 – 28 – 14). Every piece— all 56 canvases—features a lily. The majority of the artwork sticks to the same color palette: black, white, and grey, or a muddling of these three colors together, with layers of them on top of text. The canvases are all clean-edged pages torn from a book. Text and printed pictures lie beneath the layers of paper, paint, and flowers.
In one of the first pieces, the color introduced that breaks away from the black and white palette is a pinky-peach hidden under black paint and a white lily pressed onto the page’s surface. Muddy lilacs coat a few of the pages in the first section of pieces, but the second section sticks to the resounding monotone palette—greys, blacks, whites cover the canvases. Some of the painted flowers, instead of being directly painted onto the pages, are cut out and pasted on top of the canvases and pressed into the pages, each varying in intricacy and imprinting life onto the pages of text.
The lilies evoke a nostalgic sense of pressed flowers between book pages. Encased between old books, light can’t seep through. It’s an act of preservation, but what’s being preserved isn’t so much the flower itself, but a memory of association. What the flower can represent is a memory—a gift, a person, a place, remnants of withering and wilting beauty.
Only in the last set of pieces, does color get reintroduced. Peach shines through—like the soft light emanating from the sun rising in the early hours of the morning—and is no longer hidden beneath black paint. The muddy lilac hue returns. Specks of yellow and streaks of greyish-blue are also added to the mix.
These colors are linked together in the final piece: a print of Henri Edmond Cross’ 1892 canvas, The Golden Islands. Not only is the book page mounting this last lily, but the patterns and grains of color—the yellows, blues, peaches, and lilac hues—are all pulled from this work.
When color is reintroduced it’s as if the sun is just starting to come up and winter has finally reached its conclusion. The slow shift from black, grey, and white—from a long winter—finally transitions to light, color, and life. Life can be obtained. A lily can bloom, sharing its beauty, even in the winter when the world is in its most lifeless, desolate, and dark form. It’s an optimistic message, one that can tide us over while we wait for spring to come.
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor