Thursday, 26 September 2013

Rory McEwen lives on

Tuesday was a sad day - I wasn't in the gallery on Monday when the rest of the team began to take down Rory McEwen The Colours of Reality, which closed on Sunday. On Monday I was busy celebrating Henry's birthday, decorating the house with bunting and balloons, tending to the garden and cooking, so I missed out on the de-installation.

It can be fair to say that Monday was a day of merriment and celebration, but Tuesday? Well I was gobsmacked by how much work my team had done in a day - when I came in, most of the paintings were no longer on the wall and were instead standing on foam blocks ready for wrapping. This really marks the end of a show for me, seeing all those paintings on blocks. It's a sad moment at the best of times.

I think this show has been one of our most successful at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and all of us in the gallery are very grateful to everyone for their support in buying the catalogue, coming to the show and talking about it with their friends. An exhibition is nothing without it's audience.

Tulips are down and ready to go back to their owners
This exhibition changed my life. It did this in so many different ways, from seeing the paintings for the first time in the flesh, to the people I met along the way. It seems like a long time ago when I saw the paintings for the first time in the form of a digital file whilst was designing the website. I remember being bowled over even then! Something inside me has been moved by these paintings and I think it has for us all. How wondrous to be the person responsible for touching so many souls after so many years after passing away. Miraculous really.

One of my favourite little sketches by Rory McEwen - so much energy
Rory's two daughters visited the gallery on Tuesday afternoon to pack up the show cases. I took some photographs for our archives as there was so much information packed into those cases. One of my favourite things to do at the end of the day is to see how many hand prints are on the cases. Sometimes it's a good measure of how busy we have been, or how sunny it was outside (suncream always leaves marks) or if we had school groups in (they leave small hand prints and children tend to have the stickiest of mits).

In the case of Rory though, I rather liked seeing which cases caused people to stop and stare more. In this exhibition, it was the music display case that got more handprints on than any other - the one with his guitar and records inside. The next most 'touched' was the one with his painting schedule written out on loose sheets of paper with the 'Is that you Rory?' postcards running along the top. I think a lot of people found this display to be very informative as it showed how fast he was at painting and how he worked on several paintings at once. Lastly, the Karl Blossfeldt show case in Dr. Sherwood's part of the show proved to be a popular gazing ground too. 

The showcase with Rory McEwen's paints inside, Kew Gardens
As the show cases got packed up it was my job to open them up. The highlight of the day was opening up the case with his apron, tools and paints inside. As I opened it the most exquisite smell of paint and old paper seeped out. I stood there wondering if that was the smell of Rory's studio, trying to memorize it as it diffused across the room. 

Rory McEwen's tools including a very fine scratching tool for sharp, defined highlights.
So I guess, like summer, the show is over and it's time to embrace something new... As the leaves on the trees start to change colour in a rather 'Rory' way, we are busy sanding and peeling sentences of vinyl off our walls... I tell you something - I won't be forgetting the glorious summer of 2013 in a hurry!

In case anyone is interested, the Estate of Rory McEwen have got a website. 

Also, the remarkable botanical artist, Martin J Allen, has written a very in depth post on his website pointing to all things Rory, from exhibition reviews and blog posts such as those by Coral Guest, to books and memoirs. I recommend scouring through every link, as each author's take on Rory's work demonstrates very well how people interpret things differently. Yet also at the same time, I find it extraordinary that by reading each review one can see very clearly that, as human beings, we are all affected by Rory's work on a spiritual level. I personally think it's something about the condition of being alive.


  1. Dear Jess
    Thank you so much for all your posts about this magnificent exhibition.
    You have brought it so much closer for me and those who can't make it to such events.
    Thank you also for sending the little touches of Rory all the way down under to Western Australia - you have no idea how much that meant to me.
    You have always been an inspiration to me with your energy and enthusiasm - and especially your ability to reflect and be so insightful about art in all forms.
    I am glad to have seen it through your eyes.

    1. I am so glad that you have enjoyed all my ramblings on the Rory show. I am just sad that it's all happening over here and not over there, or anywhere else for that matter. So many people would have enjoyed seeing his work. Anyway - I am pleased that you have found my take on things insightful. I myself wonder if it's all a bit self-indulgent on my part, but then what the heck? Life is too short and I like to indulge! I hope life is treating you well Vicki - it looks like you have been a busy bee. Will you be illustrating the invites?

  2. Lovely post Jess, enjoy your vellum. Mum xx

    1. Thanks mum. Oh yes - I most certainly will!