Art Becomes a Living Thing at San Diego Art Alive

Brianna's finished floral artwork next to the original painting at the "Art Alive 2018" exhibit.

 “Art Alive” has been part of my life and my family’s life for several decades. I first got involved way back when I was still a florist. No matter how busy I got, this is one community project I’ve always enjoyed and will always make time for it.

Art Alive 2018 runs this weekend, April 27 through 29, at the San Diego Museum of Art.

“Art Alive” is now in its 37th year. Local and national floral designers create their own floral interpretations of artworks from the Museum for “Art Alive” every year. There will be more than 100 floral displays of art masterpieces, and a whole weekend of flower-filled activities and events. For me it’s the perfect intersection of nature and art. You can read more about it on the SDAM website.

I used to take my kids, Ted and Allie, to “Art Alive!” when they were in grade school. Both were in art classes. For our first year, we went to breakfast at Hob Nob Hill to start the day, where Dad tried prepping them about what they were going to see as an enrichment lesson on art. I talked about shape, color, negative space, literal versus figurative interpretation. Oh boy were they bored!

But it was a completely different story when we got to the museum. Suddenly their enthusiasm burst into view. My two kids started running between the pieces, because each wanted to be first with his or her technical interpretation! To my amazement, a crowd started forming around these two whirlwinds and following them around to enjoy their commentary. I encourage you to take your kids, or someone else’s kids, when you attend “Art Alive.”

“Art Alive” is one of my favorite events every year. But participating can be stressful. I always want to challenge myself. Over the years as our Good Earth Plant Company team has gotten involved the stakes just keep going up to top ourselves, expand our creativity and impress the public who comes to “Art Alive” to view the pieces and support the San Diego Museum of Art.

This year, Plant Technician Brianna Onstad stepped up in a big way. She couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about pitching in. When I say ‘pitching in,’ I really mean taking the lead and taking on this project as her own. Fantastic! Brianna says she has always been artistic and has been drawing as long as she can remember. She had some experience working with flowers in a previous job in the floral department at Sprouts Farmers Market. This project would take her skills to a whole new level.

The surrealist painting "After Many Days" is the inspiration for our 2018 "Art Alive1" exhibit. Photo: San Diego Museum of Art

The surrealist 1940 painting “After Many Days” is the inspiration for our 2018 “Art Alive1” exhibit. Photo: San Diego Museum of Art

Due to me being out of town, and with Brianna in the lead, she attended the Museum’s selection session, where art pieces are displayed for the guest artists to choose as inspiration. In the previous years, I selected the piece of art for interpretation. Every year, some of the same art pieces show up. There is one in particular I’ve looked at every year and thought to myself, ‘I’m not picking that one!’ because it seemed so challenging and difficult to interpret.

Guess which one Brianne went right after? You got it. Artist Thomas Hart Benton’s painting “After Many Days,” one of the, and this  most challenging pieces of art I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been involved in “Art Alive.” She said, “We’re going to go big or we’re going to go home!”

Brianna said she spotted the original artwork the minute she walked into the museum, and knew she wanted to interpret it because it represents the circle of life and death, the natural process which she says is sentimental to her. She especially loved the skull and the seeds sprouting on top of it.

But there is nothing wrong with being ambitious, and this clearly stretched my comfort zone. So Brianna took this assignment on with all her energy and drive. She came up with the design, chose most of the materials, and while she asked for guidance, she didn’t need a whole lot of help from me. A little coaching from me as an Art Alive veteran, and we collaborated on the flower varieties in the finished artwork. But make no mistake, this year’s contribution is Brianne’s work start to finish.

Brianna said constructing the grass mound at the base of the floral artwork was one of the most difficult steps, including having to harvest the grass herself.

Brianna says the initial design sketch she created was very elaborate. “I’m kind of that person, this is my idea and I don’t know how it’s going to go, but I love to improvise.” Her initial concern was securing the branches and the grass into the base. They had to be done right and couldn’t be moved once the top was assembled. “Working and gluing the grass was difficult, I’m not going to lie,” she said.

The floral artwork for “Art Alive 2018” in progress.

Using Asiatic lilies, white roses, mini spray roses, mini carnations, baby eucalyptus, asters, thistles, and hydrangeas, Brianna had to fit all her ideas into the required space – 24 inches wide and 36 inches high, no more. “I couldn’t have a practice run. I had to put it together and hope it went well. When I started putting the flowers on top, that was alarming. I was an inch under! It ended up really working out well,” said Brianna.

She put in a lot of time and effort, and it shows. Brianna dropped our entry off at the Museum Thursday morning, and she said she received nice compliments, especially the use of gold wire in the finished piece. “When I saw the art, it made me think about the circle of life. When there is death, there is hope for life once again … I wanted people to know what I wanted to get across. Even when there is bad, there is also good, there is always hope. I wanted gold to flow from the dead branches up to the start of something new.”

Good Earth Plant Company is thrilled to have Brianna Onstad's floral artwork representing us this year at "Art Alive 2018" at the San Diego Museum of Art.

Good Earth Plant Company is thrilled to have Brianna Onstad’s floral artwork representing us this year at “Art Alive 2018” at the San Diego Museum of Art.

Brianna’s finished piece on behalf of Good Earth Plant Company will be on display at the Museum’s Friday night “Bloom Bash” gala fundraiser. I will be there and I can’t wait to find out what people think of her work. I also love seeing everyone else’s creativity.

You get your chance to see these works starting on Friday and continuing through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at the Museum. Members get in free, and all other visitors can buy a ticket for $25. But why not become a Museum member? Memberships start at $50 and you’ll get free admission. You can’t pass up that deal. Find membership information online here.

If you see Brianna’s artwork, let us know what you think on our Good Earth Plants Facebook page!

The finished floral display created by Brianna Onstad for “Art Alive 2018.”