It started, in earnest, with a hippie girl and a daffodil in Central Park.
It was 1967, and flower power was peaking. Janet Alling, fresh out of Yale Art School and teaching art history, landed in New York City and painted in her spare time. But when a young woman handed her a yellow flower, Alling discovered her lifelong muse.
The artist – whose solo exhibition, “Janet Alling’s Garden,” opens at OneWay Gallery on May 12 – was familiar with the subject. She created studies of daffodils in a drawing class at Yale University, and her reunion with the flower came with an epiphany.
“I knew, then, that flowers would be my subject matter,” says the artist from her home in Providence, an open loft that’s softened by the lush, organic compositions hanging on her walls. “Plants and flowers are a life form. They are moving and growing in the light as I paint them.”
Alling has been painting since childhood. Her father gave her a set of oils when she was ten years old. Her family life was a difficult one; her mother died after a long battle with breast cancer when Alling was a teenager.
“The only way of expressing myself was through painting and reading,” says Alling, who is also a classically trained pianist. Alling went to undergraduate school at Skidmore College, where she decided to be a fine artist.
“That was the eye-opener,” she says. “I knew I was an artist, and some people encouraged me to be a commercial artist. But when I started studying and learning about art history and the fine arts, I knew that was my niche.”
It was only natural that, after continuing her art studies at Yale, she would pursue a career in fine art. Her earliest works were watercolor, capturing the light and elegance of single daffodils, roses and irises. She then returned to her childhood medium of oil paints, developing her own artistic techniques for paintings of single flowers, greenery and, most recently, whole gardens.
While Alling showcased her vivid floral paintings in New York City and New England, she taught art courses and worked many jobs, including in textile conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I had to have jobs, 9 to 5, to support myself,” she says. “I was in the mid-stream of the art world. It was a tough world. Then the world changed.”
As rents skyrocketed in the 1980s, galleries became big businesses in New York. Alling says she was capable of branding herself and hustling, but it made her uncomfortable.
“It wasn’t business, for me,” she says. “It was life as an artist. I had shows and hoped I sold so I could keep painting.”
Thirteen years ago, though, Alling was looking for a fresh start. Her niece, who attended Brown University, introduced the artist to Providence. Alling was drawn to Downcity loft-living; she sold her co-op apartment and moved to Providence.
Since then, Alling’s work has shown in solo and group settings at the Newport Art Museum, Coastal Living Gallery in Wickford and Hotel Providence. Her work is also in the collections at the RISD Museum and the Newport Art Museum.
Of flowers, her lifelong subject, Alling says: “Each one is an individual. They’re all my family; I have no favorites. Each painting is very much a part of my mind and heart and life.”
The public is invited to an opening reception on May 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. Complimentary refreshments will be served. The show closes on June 10. Regular gallery hours are Friday 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and by appointment.