It may seem a little cold for flowers, but some spectacular Oriental poppies and desmanthus seed pods just blossomed along the Detroit RiverFront, just east of Renaissance Center.
An art installation, which features two large photographs printed on metal — appropriately titled “Oriental Poppy” and “Desmanthus” — by Birmingham artist Laurie Tennent went up Feb. 2 and will remain there in their large frame, one facing the river, the other facing downtown, for three years.
Tennent found the dried “Desmanthus” pod at Cranbrook House. By contrast, the ‘Oriental Poppy’ came from a friend’s garden.
The installation adds to the rotating art exhibition the RiverFront Conservancy has mounted at the river’s edge over the past several years.
In Tennent’s case, the two images on display are large scanned photos that the artist burns onto aluminum panels about three-feet-by-six-feet.
“It’s a dye sublimation process,” she explains, “a heat-based transfer process. The inks are baked into the aluminum. The image is printed on pieces of paper, and then transferred to the aluminum.”
Don’t let the painterly quality of these images fool you. They’re not paintings or drawings that have been photographed. They’re actual scans of the real-life plants involved.
“This is essentially using the scanner as a camera,” Tennent explains.
“It’s a light-capture device. And the scanner’s light is laser, which has a very shallow depth of field: whatever is right on the glass is super-sharp,” she says, “and everything else fuzzy. So it gives the images a kind of Dutch painting feel.”
Indeed, these luminous prints dense with color look like they could well have been painted by some Flemish master in the 17th century.
One of the things that makes Tennent’s work pop is that she scans in a darkroom with no lights on, so her backgrounds have an almost velvety blackness that makes the plant color practically explode.
“I love the life cycle,” she says, “the architecture of the dried pods, or when a flower is wilting.” A friend overnighted her a magnolia that she let sit around her studio until the cream-and-pink petals had aged to a dull coffee color.
“I photographed them when they first arrived,” Tennent says, “but just didn’t like it that much. So I let them sit around, and they reached perfection.”