Guelph Artist Sylvia Woods Exhibits Renaissance-Inspired Paintings


Guest-written by Shannon Jill Bray with edits by GAC

In her new series of paintings, Flora, Guelph artist Sylvia Woods looks at the symbolic use of flowers in artworks from the Renaissance period, drawing from an era in which the practice of “reading” a painting could be quite literal. The paintings featured in this show are titled with their symbolic meaning, for instance “Tulip, Transience”, “Iris, Divine” and “Peony, Nascent”. The last one is particularly interesting, the symbolic meaning coming directly from how the flower was used. ‘Nascent’ means birth, and the peony was at one time used as a narcotic given to women during childbirth.

We asked Sylvia to tell us a bit about her time in Italy, as a student 23 years ago and how it influenced her work.

“We were allowed into the drawing rooms in the Uffizi Gallery, and wandered the lane ways and church aisles soaking in the art and ambience of Florence. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it. I returned this past April to stay for two weeks and found it quite emotional, after painting Renaissance symbols for a few years, to see the original works again in a new light and with a more mature eye. Essentially, Florence hasn’t changed, and it has often been cited as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. What makes it so wonderful for me is that you can imagine yourself transported back in history to a time where so many things were being discovered in science and the arts, when beauty and excellence in craftsmanship were highly valued. To me, the symbolic language of the natural elements, which were commonly understood in the past, is a language that acknowledges the essence and importance of creation in communication. The natural world literally spoke to the people of the past symbolically, making ordinary moments extraordinary. It has been delightful researching and bringing some of these symbols into my work as the subject over the past few years. I find that people respond to symbols and have fun reading the names and connecting the natural elements with their meanings.”


Calling upon her time spent in Florence, Woods has used a lost vocabulary of symbolism to inform the character of her vivacious, portrait-like floral works.

Flora opened last week with a celebratory reception, in conjunction with October’s Fourth Friday, to great success. Enlivened by a swanky three-piece Jazz band, food, and wine, the art event was attended by 80-100 people, including family, friends, friends of friends, and past clients, as well as a few people who came in ‘off the street’ as a part of the Fourth Friday celebrations. Sylvia says it is “inspiring to hear others’ insights into the work and catch the excitement of connecting flowers with meanings. It felt great to have all of the work hanging together, and to share it with so many people.”


Flora is now on exhibition in downtown Guelph at Catch-23, located at 23 Wyndham Street North, 2nd Floor, and can be viewed by appointment until November 9.

You can see more about Sylvia and her work in our member directory VIEW PROFILE>

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