Local’s budding artwork stems from love of gardening | AspenTimes.com

Local’s budding artwork stems from love of gardening

Stewart Oksenhorn
The three-person show "Creations with Water," opening at the Red Brick Center for the Arts with a reception tonight, includes works from Aspen photographer Cliff Mohwinkel's "Cut Flowers" series. (Courtesy Cliff Mohwinkel)

For most of the 20 years he has practiced photography – ever since he wanted to fill the walls of a new house with “nice things,” as he said – Cliff Mohwinkel took a passive approach to his subjects. Working primarily with landscapes, the 64-year-old Aspenite might move a rock out of the way, but otherwise, what he saw was what he shot. “The biggest decision was whether to take the picture or not,” he said.

More recently, however, Mohwinkel has had his hands on more than the shutter button and the stray stone. The owner of a greenhouse business as a kid, an avid gardener, and with numerous floral images to his credit, Mohwinkel is familiar with flowers. With his recent “Cut Flowers” series, he has gotten on intimate terms with lilies, roses, tulips and more.The series involves cutting flowers in a variety of ways; Mohwinkel dissects buds and plucks petals. The resulting black and white images, shot with large-format film, reveals another facet of what are already, from the outside, objects of beauty.”There is an inner thing going on in flowers,” Mohwinkel said. “The symmetry – it blows me away. I cut one in half, and things move and it makes the composition.” He points to “Gesture,” a piece whose shape suggests bodily movement. “I was just experimenting with cutting, trying to see how I could cut without getting ragged edges, and I just looked at it and said, ‘Holy cow!'”

A selection of the “Cut Flowers” photos – plus several landscapes and one pre-“Cut Flowers,” color floral piece – are part of the three-person show “Creations with Water” at the Red Brick Center for the Arts. The show, including watercolors by Mary Russel and watercolors and raku pottery by Tammie Lane, opens with a reception at 5 p.m. today. The exhibit shows through March 31.Mohwinkel has gone from the strict hands-off approach of landscape photography to a process that is extremely hands-on. Using blades and fingers – and usually flowers from City Market – he brings the flowers up close, considering what a certain cut might reveal.

“I get real close, study it, make love with the flower, until the flower and I are one,” he said. Once he gets a sense of the inner flower, he cuts and makes a Polaroid image. Working off the Polaroid, he reflects on the lighting. The various images use either very simple or very complex lighting, which varies not only the contrast and darkness of the photograph, but also shadows, a potentially integral part of the piece.Mohwinkel believes he has found an ideal artistic balance between intention and chance. “The whole idea is found art versus made art,” he said. “The landscape – that’s what it was, and I can’t go get my chain saw out. These are in the studio, with everything in my control. Except they’re not in control at all. They do what they want.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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