Thursday, January 21, 2010


Many artists were greatly influenced by the writings of British artist and philosopher John Ruskin who encouraged artists to paint "a wild , vigorous plant as it grows" rather than a bouquet of flowers in a glass which has been wrenched from it's surroundings and artificially assembled. He leaves us in little doubt about his beliefs in this quote:

"A flower garden is an ugly thing, even when best managed. It is an assemblage of unfortunate beings, pampered and bloated above their natural size, stewed and heated into diseased growth; corrupted by evil communication into inharmonious colors; torn from the soil which they loved, and of which they were the spirit and the glory, to glare away their term of tormented life among the mixed and incongruous essences of each other in earth that they know not, and in air that is poison to them."

Displaced painted in 2004 is a reaction to this quote. The text up the right side says "plucked from nurturing soil and forced to re-think the notion of home".

I don't think I ever looked at a cultivated garden the same way after reading this quote . It certainly impacted my perceptions of the gardens at Birr Castle.

An artist greatly influenced by Ruskin's writings was Henry Roderick Newman ( 1843- 1917) an American artist born in Easton , New York. He developed his love of nature during summers in Massachusetts and the Green Mountains in Vermont.

The delicate watercolour Wildflowers, 1887 is representative of Newman's work. I find similarities between my meadow paintings presented in the previous post and Newman's Wildflowers. Both have a myopic perspective that encourages the viewer to get down on all fours and observe the exquisite details of nature. There are no hints of a broader landscape, no sky, river, animals or people - only the close up world of perfection where every blade of grass, petal and leaf are equally important. I had forgotten about this painting since my first reading of Art in Bloom but when I encountered it again several day ago, I felt at home and comfortable in it.

I've been asked why my garden paintings are so detailed. There's nothing like a question to bring you up short. I had to think about this for awhile. First and foremost I respond to my instincts when I work on a new series. I just do it the way that seems right. Some aspects are thought out others just appear and are captured for future use. Giving myself permission to explore usually produces my best work.

I am only interested in the close up view of the garden. Rarely will you see me paint anything that resembles a vista. This is how I see the world. I take in minute details others would never notice. When you go close up to a scene everything takes on importance and vies for your attention. It is difficult to ignore any details or to establish what one thing is important. I've come to realize that I am more interested in the connections among the individual elements - the patterning of nature- which is so often replicated in produced designs .

At the same time I am playing with the viewer who thinks that the work is very realistic. It is realistic but the scenes themselves are not real. All of my compositions are produced from the the integration of various elements from different places that look similar. My use of photo transfer into gel skins that are collaged here and there around the painting surface (board) are then integrated fully into my painting. In other words, I start with the details of nature and then continue to paint and repaint my own memory of the scenes. The resulting work is a hybrid of realistic aspects and information filtered through memory. If I were not starting from a realistic reference point (bits and pieces of photo transfer) I would never achieve the amount of detail that appears in this work. Since I began to use photo transfer elements in my Remnants series, the inclusion of details in my work has increased significantly. Who knows where my next series will go!


Kelly M. said...

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment." Ruskin's statement about uprooting a flower and taking it from its' home, its' natural state -- well, there you've got me. I have a large garden, mostly roses and clematis. I rarely pick them but would rather see them wilt on the vine, which is another stage of beauty. And right about now, Margaret, a riot of color in the form of flowers is what I crave -- my fingers itch and my eye searches the landscape for something other than grey, white and brown. Beautiful work, great entry!

Margaret Ryall said...

I too am craving the colours of every season except winter. White and gray wear thin pretty quickly. I have to admit I carry my flowers inside the house with guilt since I read that quote. It seems there isn't enough guilt to overshadow the joy I get from looking at nature inside the house.

hwfarber said...

I really like your painting, Displaced, and its reason for being. I love the quote--I've always felt this way about plants.

My husband is always zapping wild things that I enjoy; I guess I need to tie ribbons on them or attach a sign "Mom likes me." The grass cutters always ask before they weed whack.

Kathy said...

Your painting is beautiful! We have something in common - I'm enticed by details as well. And, I love my garden :)

Jeanette said...

The love for detail runs through me as well. While others admire the landscape, I'm inspecting a tiny piece of foliage or colours in a rock.

I agree that while winter has its blahs in terms of colour, especially in these days that have no sun, there is also an appeal about it too. The earth shows her bones in winter with stark lines of trees and roughened fields of stubble.

The ability to depict flowers well is enviable for me, a non flower painter. I keep meaning to tackle them and I should. They have lovely forms and colours and are an exercise in their own right.

The poppy is wonderful against the strong colour. Your ability to manipulate form in your work is something I've not tried. I should.

layers said...

that is the beauty of painting in a series and I encourage all the participants in my workshops to do so.. when one paints in a series you can't predict where you will end up and you can't predict what your next series will be because one painting leads to the next one.

rivergardenstudio said...

Margaret, this is a great post, I especially love what you, yourself feel about your own work, your words make me see your garden. I miss my garden, the wildness, that color that will still be lost for several weeks. I look forward to seeing your garden in the spring on your blog, and sharing mine. roxanne

-Don said...

What a great post about your processes and decision making in creating this series. It's wonderful how the act of creating generates new ideas and possibilities.

I will never look at a flower garden the same. Thanks for the guilt... :-)


Margaret Ryall said...

I've enjoyed your comments to my garden connections. Now that I am into the last stage of my series with May looming everything about the concept of gardens is swirling in my brain.

Sorry for creating guilt about cultivated gardens. It is a difficult concept when you love gardens. Ultimately I think all gardens are about control when you really start to think about it.

Displaced is one of my favourites of everything I created. It also references a sad aspect of living on an island. Many of our young people leave to find work in other places much different from where they grew.

Gardens link many people together. I now have two gardens and both are running away with me. They are more shrub and rock rather than luscious flowers.

Your description of a garden in winter will stay with me. " The earth shows here bones.." I love that.

I think I became a painter when I began to work in series. Before that I felt like I was "shopping at every supermarket in town" but couldn't put a menu together!

I would love to say that it will only be a couple of weeks to see colour in my garden. I'm afraid that means May in Newfoundland!
I've never thought about putting pics of my garden on my blog. Good idea for later or maybe periodic updates.

teresa stieben said...

It will take more than Ruskin's words to entice guilt in me. I love bouquets of the pampered and bloated artificially arranged florals in my kitchen where I can enjoy the lusting passion of color during the winter when wild herbs and flowers sleep under a blanket of snow. During spring and summer I enjoy the variety of blooms that grow in neighbors gardens. I do admit the most cherished blossoms are those teeny tiny ones like wild violets and orchids that surprise one alongside a worn path through the woods or by a lakeshore. Those are treasures that I ever so careful photograph being careful not to distress the surrounding area with misplaced footsteps.