Stamford artist’s bold blooms pop on cold porcelain

Rosa Colon’s flowers are hardly shrinking violets. Big, bold blooms unfurl across large canvases while her latest floral incarnations poke out of their two-dimensional plane into a three-dimensional world.

With her fingernail, Colon taps the petals of one of her latest pieces. It sounds like an empty pistachio shell. Sturdy, yet light, the petal is not unlike the natural object it is meant to mimic.

“Go ahead touch it,” she says of the framed daisies hanging on the wall of her studio at the Loft Artists Association galleries in Stamford. It is just one of dozens of individual petals she has made out of cold porcelain. A relatively easy clay to make, it requires no heat to harden. More typically used for modeling, Colon has co-opted the medium to provide the sculptural feel to her floral work while staying rooted to the canvas.

“For the longest time I wanted to feel them,” she says. “I wanted them to pop off the canvas.”

For someone who loves flowers so much, it was limiting to stop at the confines of the canvas, so she experimented. She left her oil paint behind, trading it for pressed flowers, leaves and stalks that she collected from her garden and those of others. It was textural and challenging. She did not rifle indiscriminately through her stash, but rather chose the proper petals as one might select paint. She was looking for the proper composition, color, light and shadow. Still, something was missing.

Her answer was in plain sight — a decorative plate she had made more than 20 years ago in her native Colombia that she kept on a shelf in her studio. It was one of the first times she had used the cold porcelain to affix a small batch of roses and leaves to the plate. She had never thought to look at it closely, but when she did, she realized the blooms were none the worse for the wear. That was about two years ago, and since then, her sculptural floral work has found its fans — one area show recently wrapped up and many of her works will be on view this month in Greenwich as part of Art to the Avenue.

“I love it, because it really gives me the feeling of 3-D,” Colon says.

As she mixed up a batch, it was a fairly quick process, a combination of cornstarch, white glue, vinegar and some hand lotion. It goes in the microwave in short bursts, and when it is ready, she quickly kneads it, molds it into a brick and wraps it in plastic wrap so it can cure for a day. The tough work comes in blending the proper colors, which she does with paint, and shaping the form. In the case of a dahlia, she may end up making dozens of tiny petals — all with gradations of color — that she individually places, like a puzzle on the canvas. She glues each one together and then makes sure it sets by anchoring it with clay and glue.

She is careful to create three-dimensional work that hews to the imperfect perfection of nature. Her dogwood blossoms are tipped with pink, but none are exactly alike. Her magenta clematis appear to be creeping off the canvas, with each bloom a different size. She will sometimes paint the flowers once they are dry to achieve the desired shading. And, she doesn’t skimp on any part of the flower, including the stigma, or the center of the flower. They may be spiky, like the clematis, or round like the sunflower.

She suspects all this interest in nature came from the blooms and verdant countryside that surrounded her during her childhood in Armenia, which is located in one of the country’s coffee-growing regions.

“My father had a farm and on weekends and during vacation, we would spend time there,” she says. “There were lots of flowers. It was beautiful place.”

Although adept with the paintbrush, Colon’s newest creative passion had forced her to MacGyver her way though some perplexing challenges. The huge round, brown center of her sunflowers? That’s brown-colored porcelain that has been stretched over a round paperweight and imprinted with tulle. Those tiny stems holding the leaves on a rosebush? Green florist wire. One thing is real — the thorns, which she got from her own garden.

“I was very careful,” Colon says, laughing, of that harvest.

Her work is relatively unique, but the interest has led others to her studio door, where she is giving workshops on cold porcelain. She will keep evolving, like nature, and is already thinking about some more creative crossbreeding — a process that includes paint, pressed flowers and the clay. She’s happy to push the petals as far as they will go.

“They hold so many possibilities,” she says of her botanical beauties. Few have escaped her attention, though roses remain her favorite. “All those textures, all those colors. … Every flower has its own specific characteristic and you have to know how to capture that.”; Twitter: @xtinahennessy