From Giverny, Monet could hear the guns of the first world war as he painted. He conceived his towering series of nearly abstract water lilies canvases as his response to the carnage. “Yesterday I resumed work,” he wrote in December 1914. “It’s the best way to avoid thinking of these sad times. All the same, I feel ashamed to think about my little researches into form and colour while so many people are suffering and dying for us.” Explains Dumas: “Monet saw painting almost as a war effort, his personal patriotic gesture.” From The Guardian, 15 Jan 2016, Flower power: the gardens that caused modern art to bloom.
I have quoted that whole paragraph as sometimes I have questioned the validity of my own art practice in these, our own times of political and social change, competing “facts”, the so-called post-truth era and the apparent rise of populism (though it has never not existed). I found the quote very affirming to read and it confirms my belief that art is my personal form of resistance and my way of asserting the values of care, beauty, nurture, vision for a peaceful future through a focus on gardens as a place of culture.
The article is particularly relevant to me now, too, in that it talks of the shadows that hang over the gardens in many of the works included in the show. My current shadows are on my liver and hanging over my future. In the immediate here and now I have a film to edit and gifts in my lifetime to make.
Actually I think I’ve been drawing box hedges but there are yew hedges as well…! I’d like to get back to Kearsney Court Gardens one more time this week if I can, in between upcoming surgery and oncology appointments. Drawing and blogging and focusing on this project are helpful but cannot quite stave off the anxiety that comes with waiting for the diagnosis to be confirmed and wondering what the treatment plan is.
Popped back to Kearsney Court gardens in the late afternoon to draw the yew hedges. The other residents (not my interviewee) of the houses are tolerating my presence, I think, though I have not seen them. There is some anxiety over what I might draw or see…
I love these hedges, they are so sculptural and I want to go back and draw them again. I am getting the hang of my new Japanese watercolours too.
So, I’ve been doing more research drawings and have been having fun using free paper samples and found tools – namely twigs. I’m not sure how I will use the observational drawings but they are an indispensable way for me to understand the Gardens visually and phenomenologically. How do I experience the Gardens, not just visually but as a space to walk in, sit in, think in, talk to people in?
I have deliberately been working small and am getting my plein-air kit down to a very manageable weight that I can easily carry and walk with! A small drawing seems to take me almost as much time as a larger one.
I had a go at painting again too, using new Japanese watercolours, but I think I need to practice a bit more ….
I’ ve been busy interviewing a resident of one the seven houses now comprising Kearsney Court, which was completed around 1900 as a residence for Edward Percy Barlow, the owner of Wiggins Teape, a paper manufacture. (Barlow is mentioned in Watermark, a Dover Arts Development production.) The house was split into seven residential freeholds in 1950 and new houses built off the main drive. (see https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001696)
After what had been a fascinating conversation I realised I had forgotten my camera cards so returned the next day for a wander around the garden, up and down the steps leading from terrace to terrace and looking down towards the canal pond from where I have until now only been able to look up towards the house. I had fun trying out a new ultra-wide angle lens too. Russell Gardens and what are now the Kearsney Court gardens were once all part of the same estate.
I’ve also interviewed the residents of the house attached to the former walled kitchen garden of Kearsney Court. I had the most delicious warm scone before being given a guided tour of the garden – now maintained as a wild garden, with a few paths through the long grass and past the trees, and along former flower beds and the remains of heated melon pits and glasshouses.
So I am beginning now to collect the different voices I need for the film.
I just hope that I am going to be able to continue working, even if at a slower pace, while I undergo treatment for suspected bowel cancer.