Back to Poppies and the Sublime


The relationship between Beauty and the Sublime has been a subject of philosophical discourse since the Greeks and Plato. Is Beauty an object or an attribute? Where does it fit into culture and art? The Sublime is more comprehensible for built within the definition is the ‘incomprehensible.’ The sublime is beyond our understanding. It rides just above the ken of ordinary mortals. It is embodied in the grotesque, seeps through into our dreams and, like the colossus, has its head in the clouds.

I grew poppies in my garden at The High Farm above Fintry where I lived for twenty years. The original seeds were imported from my mother’s garden in Saskatchewan. Today, six years after the house at the High Farm burnt down, the poppies still grow. They are a burn of vivid red beside the charred remains of the house. I caught them at the end of the season this year. I painted the last blooming poppy and contemplated beauty and the sublime.

Beauty is embodied in the poppy. I highlighted the glowing red and played up the brilliance against the velvety black streak down the petal’s center. I set the poppy against images of the sublime – twisted lizards (an image I return to often - originally gleaned from a small bronze sculpture in the Correre Museum in Venice, Italy), a mummified raccoon’s frightening visage and a sleeping fox. The fox is my personal animal, small, energetic and clever - with red hair. Drowsy under the blowing poppy, the fox dreams a sublime opiate dream.

Julie Oakes