Cherry blossoms, hopeful symbols of spring’s return, will fill the Meuse Gallery in St. Helena with the opening of “Simon Bull: Sakura: The Cherry Blossom Tree,” on March 20.
The show will be at the gallery through April 25. An opening reception, on Saturday, March 20, is from 4 to 7 p.m. with an artist’s talk at 5 p.m. COVID-19 safety precautions will be observed.
Hanami, cherry blossom viewing, has been a Japanese tradition since the eighth century, and other countries have adopted celebrations of cherry trees in bloom, optimistic symbols of a new beginning.
In the U.S., the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. commemorates Japan’s March 27, 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Americans.
In 2019, Bull was the official artist for Washington, D.C. festival.
“I’ve painted trees and flowers for many years,” said Bull, “but this was a focus moment, so many amazing trees, bursting forth into blossoms.”
Bull’s cherry blossoms are no frail flowers, but vibrant blooms that sweep across a canvas in generous shades of pink, white and lavender.
“It’s inspiring to share that glorious beauty of cherry blossoms,” Bull said. “And the flowers come with a promise: There will be cherries.”
Speaking in a phone interview from his home in Carmel, he said, “It’s not just another blossom this year. People have been stressing out about everything. I think we’ve all been through more than our share of stuff. You don’t need to have a degree in philosophy to appreciate a blossom.”
The British-born artist, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2003, has attracted other honors as well. In 2002 he was one of the artists selected to commemorate the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. In 2007 he was invited to create a series of paintings that celebrated the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Many of these works are now on permanent display in the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
He has spoken on behalf of the Muhammad Ali Center at the Vancouver Film Festival for the premiere of the movie “Facing Ali.”
Was it a change in course to switch from painting flowers to a champion boxer?
“No,” Bull said, “A face is like a flower.
“The Muhammed Ali story is a lot like a butterfly floating about the trials of life,” he added. “One of his favorite sayings was ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Ali, in turn, asked Bull to paint a portrait of President Barack Obama in 2009. “I did four portraits in all,” Bull said. Two portraits of Barack Obama and Muhammad Ali were unveiled at the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball on the eve of the presidential inauguration by actress Ashley Judd.
Bull studied art in England but has drawn inspiration from his world travels. “I used to go to the monastery in Hong Kong to watch the monks and see how the motif of design flows throughout (their work).”
A drive to St. Helena, getting ready for the Sakura show, became a “meditation on the fires in the fall. It’s really inspiring to see the black branches of trees bursting into flower.”
“The darker the background, the brighter the colors appear,” he reflected. “I take moments in nature and turn them into story-telling moments. Anybody gets it.”
Bull has created a series of videos on his website, which show his inventive and often playful approach to creating his art. “Life is very transient but we have an opportunity in this life to create something for the next generation. As an artist, that’s what I am doing.”
Bull, who became an American citizen in 2011, shows his works at his Carmel gallery and the Meuse Gallery in St. Helena.
“We have five exhibits planned for the rest of the year (in St. Helena),” he said. “Every one will be joyous and uplifting.”
Meuse Gallery is at 1331 Main St., St. Helena. View more of Simon Bull’s cherry blossom paintings at www.meusegallery.com/blossom.
Photos: St. Helena blooms in the spring
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