A Tentative Stroll Down the Garden

Et in Arcadia Ego

Balby Garden Sculptures June/July 2020

The Garden is not strictly a theistic or spiritual phenomenon. It has its roots in more basic impulses: to carve off a portion of the landscape, and distinguish it from ordinary places. This is suggested by the origins of the word ‘sacred’: from the Indo-European ‘sak’, meaning to separate, demarcate, divide. The opposite of the sacred is not the secular but the ordinary, from which it is set apart. In this light, the garden is one of the original sacred sites, preceded by groves like the Lyceum: an area cordoned off from purely natural or human activity, but which explicitly unites both. While perfectly secular, its walls, fences, ditches or hedges symbolise a break from ‘common sense’. “

Young , D (2019). Philosophy in the Garden. London: Scribe Publications

Balby Garden 5 in situ

Balby Garden 5, June/July 2020

I have two works in progress at the moment that explore the occupation of spaces separate to the world. One of them is a series of small sculptures that take elements from untended patches of garden and ‘elevate’ them through the application of gilding and oil colour. The other is a virtual reality work that traverses a series of yards and gardens highlighting, without explanation, elements of (auto)biography constructed through family photographs.

VR Glover Street

VR Glover Street, looking back past the introduction

As is often the way with the gestation of new works these works have both existed, in a kind of cinematic soft focus, well in advance of their articulation. The use of the garden as both a means of separation and as a motive for building or making has been at the centre of my work for as long as I’ve made it, but it was only reading the quote at the top of the post on July 12th 2020 that I clearly understood it.

Before this event, reading something that resonates is always an event, I had been struggling with ways to describe works that look to this “break from ‘common sense’”. A desire to show, not tell, by pointing at things and not expalining. I began with the Four Quartets, where in Burnt Norton

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened”

and through Baudrillard

Fiction is not imagination. It is what anticipates imagination by giving it the form of reality. This is quite opposite to our own natural tendency which is to anticipate reality by imaging it, or to flee from it by idealizing it. That is why we shall never inhabit true fiction; we are condemned to the imaginary and nostalgia for the future.”

Baudrillard, J (1988,1989) trans. Turner, C America. London: Verso

in the end encountering Poussin’s ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ and through this the Arcadia of Jacopo Sannazaro and the awful dream that induces his return to the city (Naples) through a dark tunnel.i

Balby Garden 3 (detail)

Balby Garden 3 (detail)

Maybe because of the way I was educated the development of the piece and the underpinning philosophy of the piece are both happening during the process of making. As an example I had struggled with the two tall pieces in the small sculptures series until one morning (this morning – 14/07/2020) when I saw the grass on my run, there is a tall grass that branches leaves like a crabgrass. I drew it a lot for the Balby Carr paintings I did in 2012, but I hadn’t thought of it until today. This realisation helped me resolve the need for the space around the ‘stems’ to be more active. It could also be considered a bit of cheat as plants are inherently interesting sculpturally and it turns the object into a sort of plant.

Balby Garden 2 (detail)

Balby Garden 2 (detail)

That also highlights the contrast in qualities I want to be present in the sculpture. The objects should appear to be plant like and an ideal might be that they are only occasionally noticed when in situ. So that they appear suddenly, demanding interrogation, emerging from their surroundings. At the same time I’d like them to be difficult to see, which is where these versions fall down. Looking back to my opening quote the objects should lift the environment from the ordinary by emphasising its sanctity. There will be another set. The first set are documented in the garden on this site Gardens Sculpture

VR Greenway View

VR Greenway View (still)

The VR piece has been hanging at the back of my mind for a year now, pushed back by the geranium project, and will step through a set of stories from gardens. Using a series of photographs (untitled) and some way of telling tiny stories as you progress through the space (currently experimenting with written notes in the space). This short film shows the beginnings of what is very much a work in progress.

The VR project will be updated irregularly and, when finished, be summed up here ‘et in arcadia ego’

 

iAll of this comes from a need to understand the desire to stand separately as an artist and look at the world from an imagined outside which is becoming more crucial to me in the age of ‘participation’ ‘community’ and ‘wellbeing’ in the arts. I don’t object to that but I don’t think we should all do the same thing, I don’t think ‘art’ should be defined, and no one is telling me what to do, or what not to do.

Lockdown 10 (almost a fortnight since the last one)

And what have I been doing since?

Finished the June ‘draw every day’ gallery and started July.

Edlington Woods 1

Edlington Woods 1

Edlington Woods 2(primrose)

Edlington Woods 2(primrose)

Started some new paintings and finished some others. I’ve got two series on the go at the moment, one is a series of Edlington Woods paintings, details of the floor mostly, and the other is a series of collared doves and pigeons in the garden.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove

I’ve continued work on the five/six Balby garden sculptures, trying out finishes with oils and gold leaf with varying measures of success.

Balby Garden 2 (in progress)

Balby Garden 2 (in progress)

I’ve also continued to work on the VR piece, ‘et in arcadia ego’, a journey through a series of gardens with photographic memories inserted withour explanation. This piece was put forward for the Cast theatre scratch night initiative in Doncaster. The tentative working title gives the clue to my intentions. For me the beginnings come from Poussin by way of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, but rather than the merely elegiac I want (now) to look back to Sannazaro’s original interruption of the idyllic retreat with a dark dream that forces you back to reality where things have inevitably changed.

The last thing for this post is that the piece was accepted for the Scratch Night, so it should be going online somehow, as a work in progress, to draw comments from a panel of arts professionals.

ACE announced that the Lottery Project Grants are returning on the 22nd of July and Barnsley NHS have been in touch to advance the organ donation memorial.

Lockdown Nine (the most bored week so far…)

This gallery has the continuation of my ‘draw every day’ attempt, so far I’ve managed every day since the 6th May

and now through June since the 6th.

I continued with the scyulptures, making six maquettes last week.

These are using the cast plaster rocks and the steel rod. I managed to submit for the Cast ‘Scratch Night’, that might be interesting (if I get it) and continued working on the ‘et in arcadia ego’ models.

I finished this painting.

Still life with fox jaw, lemon and dried rose

There is now a set of five of these,

each 10 inch square, oil on board, an attempt to relearn painting by drawing directly with paint onto the board. The middle one is in the Doncaster Art Fair competition on line and I’ve got my fingers crossed.

I’ve tried gilding the first of the small sculptures, that and painting being the next step, and it looks like this now

 ‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

 ‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

 ‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

Still thinking about the VR work and how to build a structure to house the experience. Also varnishing BGNo5 and finishing the others.

Still difficult to focus thoughts on the work as its impossible to get away from it!