Saturday, 16 May 2020

Article in May's edition of the South West Botanical Art Society Magazine

Delighted to be featured in this month's magazine by the South West Society of Botanical Artists. Here is the article below. If you'd like to join this superb little group, click on the link. They are strongly affiliated with the Eden Project and have lots of amazing artists on board.


I wake up to a row of giant pansies at the foot of my bed.  ‘It isn’t a dream.  This is really happening’ is my first thought as I go downstairs to make my morning tea.  The village is silent, apart from the starlings and the occasional call from the cockerel next door. I take my tea onto the roof terrace, which is still cool from last night’s temperatures and sip my tea. It isn’t a dream. The world has fallen silent. 

I moved all of my huge pandemic pansies at the foot of my bed so that they would be the first thing I would see upon waking up to remind me of the global situation. My life hasn’t really changed much since the world slowed down, so it would be easy for me to forget that walks are prohibited. The Alice in Wonderland pansies remind me that it wasn’t just a dream; the planet is on pause.

I live alone in a little village on the edge of a national park in Andalucia, Southern Spain. The house sprawls across three floors and is covered from head to toe in my horcruxes. Forgive the Harry Potter terminology, but I don’t really know how else to call my paintings. They are, after all, fragments of me, of my perceptions both inner and outer.  The only rooms where you can escape the lure of the blue flower are the two bathrooms.

A lot of the paintings are half finished. I often take a pause mid painting for several reasons. Firstly, to unfamiliarise myself with them so I can see them anew later on and finish them with fresh eyes. Secondly, in the case of oil paintings, the layers need drying and thirdly to keep the collection ‘whole’. You see, I am making another collection of pieces, this time on the theme of the Blue Flower and I want there to be a synergy across the works when they are all finished to unify the collection as a whole. I am hoping that the collection will be exhibited in 2024 with another limited edition, layflat bound book, but the stars often laugh at best laid plans, so let’s just say ‘sometime in the future’.

The Blue Flower came to me after reading Novalis’ unfinished Bildungsroman, entitled Heinrich von Ofterdingen, a story which has been marked as the igniter of the entire Romantic Movement. In the book, the blue flower symbolises the joining of humanity with nature and the spirit, so the understanding of nature and of the self is growing. In the Romantic Movement, the meaning of humanity was a continuation from Humanism and the Age of Enlightenment, but the focus was on one's own emotions, not on abstract theory. For me, the Romantic Movement was the last time nature seems to hold any significance in the major art scene. Since those times, flowers and leaves appear less and less in major art galleries. Keen to get botanical painting back into the forefront of the visual arts I thought I’d try to ‘re-do’ the Romantic Movement, like a Post-New Romantic.

In the story, a young man dreams about a blue flower and becomes enchanted. He longs for the flower and with this, he goes walking across the Alps to find it. The story encapsulates all that is inherently Romantic – travel, being in the wilderness, dreams, illusions, love, heroism and tragedy.

Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to work at Kew Gardens, in the galleries there. Sometimes I would do a shift on my own and I liked those days best as after locking up, I’d hide in the Marianne North Gallery in the darkness for hours. I had the entire space to myself and I would look at every painting for hours. She was certainly a Romantic maverick and it’s difficult not to be inspired by her bravery and tenacity as an early female explorer. It has been her influence (and the work of Yves Klein) that made me want to make my search for the Blue Flower global and cross borders.

I started Blue in 2017, and since then I have been globe-trotting, collecting, pressing and studying blue flowers as I go and meeting many new faces and places. It’s been exciting and exhausting in equal measure. To tell you the truth, despite being a huge inconvenience for me and the many and horrendously tragic and scary, I am quite happy in my pandemic pit stop. As the world is left to interact online, I am busy cutting canvas, making guesso and melting rabbit skin glue in silence. I am a rebel and for me there is something so inherently Romantic about that sort of silent, creatively indulgent revolt. The internet is a useful tool, but one has to be mindful in how it’s used. It too, like travelling, can be exhausting and disorientating.

With all of us currently house bound, I am left having to rethink the parameters of Blue. I can’t go gallivanting around the planet as easily, so I have decided to bring blue to me. I have a little roof terrace and I am busy planting it up with lots of flowers. They aren’t all blue, but many of them will be, so my day to day work has shifted. I am back to gardening and for the first time in five years; I am making a home for myself in a little casa with blue doors. I am not sure how long it will last, like all things, the experience is subject to change and there are forces beyond my control, but it feels good to be making something akin to a utopia.

I have just finished my latest painting – Love in a Mist with its back turned away behind a thicket of spines. I am hoping to have it reproduced in my next edition of INK Quarterly (which you can subscribe to using the link below) as a framable A1 poster. Since I started Blue, I have been publishing a limited edition botanical art zine which comes with a farmable piece of art. It’s been such fun to do – I get to work with so many amazing artists from all over the world and it’s really satisfying being able to showcase their work and introduce it to new audiences. Part of the ethos of INKQ is to also give botanical art a stage – to mix it in with other forms of contemporary art so that it has a voice.

I hope I can get the painting to the UK for scanning. It’s difficult to know if printing will all go ahead with the current state of worldwide affairs, but I remain hopeful. Hope calls us to make another world that might not be possible. Where there is no hope there is no action. So I remain poised, rather like my painting, which now sits waiting on standby - another meaningful painting telling a chapter of my life.

You have to look carefully at my paintings, they are full of symbols. The choice of flower, the composition, the tone. I don’t just paint flowers. Blue was never about documenting blue flowers as they are. Blue is about the story, my journey and the stories of the lives my own journey crosses over with; the lives of the living, the lives of our ancestors and the land. for more information on INKQ, books and prints. for more information on latest pieces.

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