Explore the Work of Artist Joanne Tarlin

March 6, 2024

There’s more than meets the eye in this artist's floral paintings.

Text by Robert Kiener    Photography by Ave Melnick

“I look. I look everywhere,” says Maine-based artist Joanne Tarlin when I ask her what inspires her atmospheric and allegorical oil paintings, each replete with the wonders of nature.

As we sit in her expansive, light-filled artist’s studio at her waterside home in Harpswell, Maine, she points to the oversized picture window that frames the coastal waters and adds, “As you can see, there’s so much that is beautiful to look at: the ever-changing light, the water, the tides, the way the sky—”

Before she can finish, we spot a high-flying black-capped tern as it dives down sharply into the water to snatch up a meal. As we watch the tern gulp down a tiny fish and climb back into the impossibly blue sky, Tarlin smiles and explains, “See? I’m surrounded by beauty.”

While the natural wonders of her home certainly inspire and stimulate Tarlin, she’s quick to explain that her art also reflects deeply held personal,political, and environmental beliefs. Indeed, as some of the titles of her paintings reveal, much of Tarlin’s work is a metaphor for her concerns. Take, for example, Interminable Hostilities; In Turbulence and Among Fractures, Life Goes On; Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow…When Will it Stop?; and What We Don’t Know About Climate Change.

“My romantic landscapes express my reactions to situations,” says Tarlin as she shows a recent oil painting, The Reds Again. At first glance, it looks like an elegant floral, but Tarlin reveals it was partly inspired by the war in Ukraine. “The images reflect the brush and brambles outside my home, but the painting is also a metaphor for one world divided,” she says. Like many of her paintings, this workis reminiscent of earlierallegorical landscapes and vanitas paintings in which the work’s elements and objects (such as Tarlin’s flowers) are chosen to symbolize the human condition and mortality. “Plants and flowers often stand in for humans in my paintings,” says Tarlin, who graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.

While the deeper metaphorical meanings of Tarlin’s paintings may not be readily apparent to casual viewers, there’s no denying that the beauty she lives with daily is. The juxtaposition between Tarlin’s natural surroundings and her concerns for humanity adds up to compelling, multifaceted artwork. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: To see more of Joanne Tarlin’s work, visit joannetarlin.com.

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