I grew up familiar with this Californian/Mexican import, the largest of the poppies. The one in the garden at home might not have been 2.5 metres tall, but it had the same giant white crumpled flowers with their glorious golden sunburst. I found this particular California Tree Poppy at the Chelsea Physic Garden. It was very popular with the garden’s honey bees. I put two of them in the painting (though one is hard to spot). The breeze and the persistence of the bees spread the golden pollen onto the petals like butter on slices of bread.
The California Tree Poppy has an affinity with fire. In its native land, its germination is triggered by wildfires. I can imagine the pleasure one must feel to come across a bush of this in full flower. It must shine in the midst of all the sage scrub of coastal California.
I greatly admire botanical paintings but they are not for me – I don’t have the patience. For this piece, I painted a lot of negative spaces for the leaves and rendered the background dark and stygian to contrast with the flower – the star of the show. I left the brushstrokes as abstract and expressionist as possible. I’m satisfied that the result works as both a representation of a California Tree Poppy and as a painting as well.