Opposites Attract: Wild Iris & California Poppy

Sally Owens

Set of 2 Original Watercolors | Studio

Medium: Watercolor 

Image size: 21" x 11"

Framed dimensions: 29" x 20"

Signed: Sally Owens

$1,800.00 USD

About the Artist

I have long admired the graceful simplicity in Japanese art and design. Born to intrepid parents during the two-year period when they were living in Japan, I must have absorbed by osmosis the influence of the Japanese culture they found so captivating. Despite growing up in the most ordinary of places (suburban Fresno) I felt, somehow, exotic. My parents were creatives; teachers for whom the arts and travel were ardent interests. Frequent family visits to Yosemite forged a connection from my earliest years, but perhaps the greatest gifts my parents offered were their patience with my intensely inquisitive nature, and their wholehearted encouragement of my passions for ballet and drawing.

At the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara, I earned my BA in Studio Art. Following began chapter one of my Yosemite residence, when I retreated to the family cabin for some reflection. What exactly does one do with a degree in Fine Art? When few answers were forthcoming, I returned to school to earn a teaching credential from Sonoma State U, fully expecting that teaching would be my vocation.

I married my college companion, an avid outdoorsman who profoundly influenced my direction, and continues to inspire me with his keenly felt love of nature and the land. Encouraged by Yosemite friends dangling potential job opportunities, we returned to the park together for “a couple of seasons.”

The year was 1988.

Though teaching opportunities proved limited, living in Yosemite was a wonder. Husband, Mark, joined the National Park Service as a backcountry ranger, and I found satisfying work designing displays at The Ansel Adams Gallery. Reawakened by the beauty of the park, I began to paint again after a long hiatus. Overwhelmed by the grandeur of the landscape, I focused in on the small but extraordinary treasures that present themselves whenever one steps outside… a cluster of leaves, a feather, a branch.

In 1989 I entered my first new piece in the annual Yosemite Renaissance, a national juried exhibit. It was warmly received, won the award for “Best Painting,” and was purchased by the Yosemite Park & Curry Company. Success at other shows encouraged me to continue, and I scaled back my work at the Gallery to pursue art-making with greater dedication. We have resided through the years in various communities: Yosemite valley, Foresta, Yosemite West and El Portal. A recent move further down canyon to the foothills (necessitated by our son’s need for a high school education!) has done nothing to lessen my attachment to the park. It is with much gratitude that I reflect on my now decades-long residence, and my association with The Ansel Adams Gallery, through which my paintings have been introduced to multitudes of park visitors, the result of which has been the joy of seeing my art make its way into the collections of people from Singapore to Tasmania.


Yosemite has been the throughline. A recreational destination in childhood, a refuge that shaped my adulthood, an endless supplier of fascinating subjects to paint. Home.

Story Behind the Image

The delicate, pale blue Iris in El Capitan meadow were the inspiration for this duo. The original Iris piece hung, solo, for years, in the home of my mother, an Ikebana teacher and flower lover, whose absolute favorite (if she had to pick one) were Iris. When the original painting came back to me, I was inspired to build on what was there, reworking it substantially to give it new life. Rather than see it re-enter the world alone, I decided it ought to have company, and composed for it, a companion piece, the California Poppy. While the two are complementary, they are opposites in almost every way, beginning with their color.

The Iris blossom is complex and fancy, the poppy blossom, simple and straightforward. The Iris leaves are simple and straightforward, the Poppy leaves, complicated and frilly. This Iris grew in the rarefied locale of Yosemite’s El Capitan meadow, the poppy near the foothill town of El Portal, my home for many years. Both are places my Mom and I loved. Both are flowers my Mom and I loved. My affection and admiration for her are at the heart of these paintings.

Artist Statement

We’re surrounded.

By beauty. Intrigue. Birth, blossoming, growth, change… (chaos, catastrophe, decay…)

The mountains are a place where natural processes predominate, and it is wise to expect the unexpected. Fires, floods, a super bloom of wildflowers… a foot of snow in May that nips them in the bud. It’s all a part of life in the Sierra. While artistic inspiration is abundant in the many majestic landmarks, I am particularly drawn to what is found in their shadows: common things with a quiet beauty that often goes unnoticed.

I try to keep my eyes open & take it all in.

As a little kid I loved to draw and paint… still do. I also loved to collect stuff… (still do.) Interesting leaves, rocks, feathers, bones. A kid’s life is lived close to the ground. These weren't the subjects I painted in child- hood, but they seeped into my spirit. Now they populate my paintings, both the sturdy and ephemeral — a leaf, a feather, a branch, the iris in El Capitan meadow, the poppy further down canyon. I choose subjects I’d like to know better — we are going to be spending a good deal of time together, after all.

My paintings explore relationships between figures, shadows, and space. I strive to keep things simple, and let the subjects speak for themselves. Two Japanese concepts are fundamental to my work, that of Wabi Sabi: the embrace of impermanence and imperfection, and Yohaku no bi: an appreciation for the beauty of space left empty. I frequently paint subjects in isolation, but find the interplay between multiple figures especially compelling. Sometimes it’s even necessary to go beyond the single frame, as when the subjects and their relationship to one another are best expressed in a work consisting of multiple paintings that together form a single whole.

There’s a reason the attempt at art-making is referred to as a “practice.” Just as a pianist must practice in order to maintain their skills, so must a painter. My challenge in completing these works was that I am “out of practice,” having been on an unanticipated years-long pause brought about by the demands of family. My art practice requires energy, focus, tenacity, and humility. I often fall short.

Ours is an increasingly complex, fast-paced world. I find much reward in solitary hours spent in a simple pursuit requiring only water + color, brush and paper. In my work I try to reveal the subtleties of the natural objects around us, and to illuminate the extraordinary in ordinary things.

I will keep practicing. I am driven by the “force.” (No not that “force!!”)

“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…”
— Dylan Thomas


Ordering Information

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