If you are not a fan of the sunny side up fried egg, this watercolor rendition of the matilija may not resonate with the breakfast image. But if you are, you know that this variety of the poppy family that showcases itself on its blue green silvery tall stalks in mid spring is nicknamed the fried egg flower based on the yokey golf ball-sized whorl that sits in the center of its crepe papery petals. The tall stalks in my neighbor’s yard gracefully reach for the skies and display their royalty on glorious mornings in the foothills. The reflective light of the sun creates interesting shadows on the petals as dark spaces in the brambly base ground them to the well drained soil.
Theodore Payne, an English horticulturist and botanist, rightfully called the matilija the “Queen of California Flowers" because its showy white petals create a truly regal aura. Jewelers have cast the flower’s ethereal form into pendants and other adornments and the le nez has captured its fragrance in sweet perfumes. The legend of Chief Matilija of the Chumash Indians gives us stories associated with this flower, the most renowned being of his daughter Amatil’s lost love – her purity represented in the bright white of the flower and her golden heart in the core. Legend also has it that these flowers appear on or near gravestones of unrequited loves. The human mind is always looking for associations and from the breakfast plate to reflections on love and beauty, there is no end to the symbolic import in nature.
Acknowledging the ever present interchange of opposing principles that surround us, I used the technique of negative painting to let the positive images emerge. Sometimes the matilija is confused with its close cousin, the poisonous prickly poppy, reminding me that the positive and the negative are more closely related than we care to admit. The natural world has withstood the various interpretations of writers and artists capturing images in words and brush strokes, connoting or denoting the constructive and destructive, and with some effort, filling negative space with something positive.