The following is an excerpt from Lisa McElaney’s afterword, The Gift of Time and Flowers, for Abelardo Morell’s monograph, Flowers for Lisa.
The artist I live with is not sentimental. Still, on many anniversaries and birthdays, he’s brought me flowers. At first, there was the ubiquitous hodgepodge from the local grocery. Then came more expensive mixed sprays from Whole Foods. Eventually, as sales of art began to supplement our teaching and research salaries, there were overpriced arrangements from boutique florists. While I always appreciated Abe’s ritual gestures, I often wished he hadn’t bothered.
I love flowers. My husband knows that. He has seen me buy them for myself and others, take pleasure in arranging them, and even try to grow them (with rare success). So his thought to bring me something I love always touched me, especially in times when we might struggle to be good partners.
But I could never bring myself to tell Abe that I didn’t really like mash-ups of different species squeezed into proximity with one another. I preferred my flowers straight up—all of one kind and modernly spare—the better for looking closely at stalks and stems, petals and buds as they slump and dry into a stiff monochrome. I’ve never had to defend my practice of keeping flowers past their prime or explain how I find their detritus and decay to be as beautiful as their just-cut former selves. Abe is used to living with my disquieting bouquets.
Before Abe decided that alcohol made it hard for him to fulfill simultaneous commitments to parenting young children, teaching full-time, and making art, I used to give him wine to honor special occasions. He never made light of my lack of sophistication in matters of the vine, but I’m pretty sure he saved most of the bottles I gave him for his annual parties for his students.
A few birthdays ago, Abe gave me flowers of a different sort. They came in the form of a photograph, created for the occasion, and it was an image unlike any he had made or given me before. A digital profusion of dozens of exposures fed to a computer for collaboration, the picture rendered a mixed bouquet that I could love. It referenced all the elements I relish about still lifes composed of real flowers: time changing the composition, a conversation between parts and the whole, the relationship between a stable container and the shape-shifting nature within. I had a perfect gift of flowers that would last my lifetime.
The pictures that followed Flowers for Lisa #1 gave me a new lens through which I could see my sometimes-tortured relationship with love and art. The more I looked at them, the more I found myself understanding my husband’s entwined passions and preoccupations—his urge to create something as an expression of his tenacious embrace of me, our uncertain world, and life itself.