To paint this show I had to discover a new visual language. THE ACTUAL OR METAPHYSICAL GARDEN (Oil 60×48″, above) and STUDY XII (oil 20×24″, below), are pictures of gardens but about people, and some of my first steps along what was to become a two year project. You can see the full show at The New British Art Gallery, North Creake until Sept 4 2016. It’s not in the nature of painters to put things into words; we try and paint what can’t be said. However I never intended to paint my current show, and it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve created since I started painting in 2000, so collectors of my work deserve an explanation for this apparent change of direction.
It started in 2014 when my wife Jane and I moved to Shammer House,
a typical Georgian farmhouse set in the North Norfolk countryside. As a landscape painter, I intended to paint its far reaching views and capture the weather and unique light of our county.
Instead I found myself drawn inexorably to the garden, which surrounds the house, enclosing mature planting and cutting beds within a mellow Norfolk Red brick wall. It’s a far cry from the corporation planting of the council estate where I grew up in East Lancashire and at first I just went with my impulse to paint it as a preparatory exercise before creating some ‘proper’ landscapes.
Months passed and with each seasonal change in the garden my compulsion to observe and paint it grew stronger, as my interest in painting the views from it waned. By autumn 2014, my studio was alive with oil sketches of the garden and I had to concede that my ambitious landscape project was dead. Sometimes the subject chooses you.
In hindsight I now realise that in its variety, in its imperfection, in its struggles and in its fleeting triumphs the garden had become something of a mirror of my own recovery from devastating illness.
I love the way it’s imperfect, yet when taken as a whole can appear to be more than the sum of its parts. I admire how stubborn plants can thrive against the unexpected adversity of our coastal weather and, most of all, I’m drawn to the idea of how it will persist and continue to be beautiful long after I cease to see it.
The garden is life writ large, irreverent, joyous, irrepressible and independent, and I came to see and celebrate it in those terms.
As I began to see the garden as a metaphor for my recovery, my paintings of it became infused with my zeal and appetite for life. They are celebrations of beauty in imperfection, of unexpected moments, records of adversity and meditations on my sheer joy of being alive in 2016.
The Painted Garden then will be a huge disappointment to lovers of botanical Art. While I have the greatest respect for artists who can paint such things, I have no interest in reproducing nature as it is.
All I can offer you is this self portrait in paint.