WASHINGTON — Philip Haas sees vegetables differently than most.
To him, cucumbers make a great nose, peaches are the perfect cheeks and nothing says “ear” quite like an ear of corn.
“In the desert, the cucumber nose looks more like a cactus,” he said, motioning to the towering sculpture of a man made from vegetables in front of him.
Haas is the artist behind four 15-foot-tall sculptures currently on display in the gardens at D.C.’s Hillwood Estate. His three-dimensional fiberglass figures are inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 16th century series, “The Seasons,” in which the artist uses plants to form the features of a face.
Haas took Arcimboldo’s two-foot, two-dimensional canvases and transformed them into larger-than-life busts, composed of flowers, fruits, vegetables and branches.
“What I wanted was for the sculptures to feel like they’re coming out of the ground and that they’ve been here forever,” said Haas, a contemporary American artists who built the first piece, “Winter,” in 2010.
“Spring,” “Summer,” and “Autumn,” quickly followed, and the “Four Seasons” series has been traveling the world ever since. Its current home is on Linnean Avenue in D.C.’s Van Ness neighborhood, where the installation will be on display through March 31, 2017.
“What’s interesting in a garden, particularly at Hillwood, where not only do you have a garden, but you have a museum with art, is the dialogue between the physical world and the art world,” Haas said. “You’re not sure if the sculptures are trying to flee the museum or climb back inside.”
One of the artist’s favorite things about the sculptures is that they seem to change, based on their surroundings. And he says the more they are exposed to nature, the more interesting they look.
“Each time there are new surprises, there are new things to look at,” he added.
At Hillwood, “Four Seasons” is visible from the estate’s ellipse lawn, which is surrounded by greenery. Visitors can walk up to each and closely examine the intricate details that make up every chin, grin and chiseled cheek.
“You’re not quite sure where the sculpture starts and the garden begins and vice versa. You’re not sure which is art and which is nature,” Haas said.
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the website for information on prices, tours and reservations.