An Inspiring Artist and the Father of Ecology

An absorbing exhibition of the work of American artist Kiki Smith is at Modern Art Oxford until 19 January. I am a Wanderer is a compelling outpouring of creativity from an abundantly fertile imagination. Smith's magnificent tapestries, woven in Belgium, are like scenes from fables and myth, appropriate in the city which was home to Lewis Carroll, Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, and now Philip Pullman. Smith's prints, sculptures and photographs demonstrate the capabilities of an artist with unbounded curiosity, keen to embrace and share her interest in the environment and our relationship with the natural world. She is an artist with an open mind, not afraid to let go as she unfurls her imagination and reveals her ideas, whether through tapestry, sculpture or printmaking.  Picasso comes to mind - another artist whose creativity was manifested prolifically through a range of media, sometimes playfully. As concern rightly grows about climate change and the destruction of the natural world, talented artists like Kiki Smith have an opportunity to remind us of our interdependence with nature, our role as stewards of the planet, and our responsibilities towards it. Smith does this with subtlety and sensitivity.

In 2020 my exhibition theme at The Garden Gallery will be Gilbert White of Selborne, 'father of ecology' and author of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. As you may know, 2020 is the tercentenary of Gilbert's birth. Read more about him here  Gilbert White's house and garden are well worth visiting.

In view of the climate crisis, along with many other serious threats to our environment, it seems timely to remember and celebrate Gilbert. Gilbert monitored the weather, as well as recording his observations of wildlife.

"All the Fading Landscape" will run from 16 May to 13 June. 

Lost Words Refound

The Lost Words - forget-me-not is an exhibition showing until 26 May at The Lettering Arts Trust in Snape, Suffolk. Curated by Lynne Alexander, the exhibition is inspired by The Lost Words: A Spell Book, by Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris. The Oxford Junior Dictionary has dropped about fifty words from nature such as acorn, bluebell and otter. They have been usurped by words like blog, broadband, cut-and-paste.

The Lost Words: A Spell Book brings twenty lost words back to life in word and paint. The book is a huge success and is finding its way into schools. At Snape, The Lost Words - forget-me-not is a response to the book by artists who carve stone, wood and glass, recording forever, in these materials derived from the natural world, the words regarded as redundant by the Oxford Junior Dictionary, a reflection of how childhood is changing.

Human beings have become disconnected from the natural world, with apparently little awareness of our part in the ecosystem. Every day, we hear shocking accounts of how we destroy and trample all over the planet, whether through deforestation, pollution, plastic in the oceans, the disagreeable ways in which food is produced, and much else. Wildlife is in free fall, and human beings are responsible. At last these issues are coming to the fore and the new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) with ominous warnings and calls for change has been widely publicised.

Keeping old skills alive is as important as cherishing old words. The Garden Gallery is an enthusiastic supporter of the work of the Lettering Arts Trust, and the artists who carve beauty and meaning into stone, wood and glass. The Trust’s Journeyman Scheme provides advanced training for letter carvers to continue developing their practice, perpetuating and growing the craft of lettering. In The Garden Gallery’s summer exhibition this year a number of letter carvers will be exhibiting their beautiful work. Come and see it, and support this essential skill.

Click on Exhibitions for more about the gallery’s 25th anniversary exhibition.
Contact the Lettering Arts Trust for a catalogue of The Lost Words - forget-me-not

Image: Tread Softly by Eric Marland (Egyptian limestone, available at The Garden Gallery)



The Unattended Moment

On a recent visit to Italy I was captivated by Piero della Francesca's Madonna di Senigallia in the Ducal Palace in Urbino. The painting is suffused with soft yet brilliant light, and exudes the stillness and serenity to be found in much of Piero's work. It is a mystical moment in time and called to mind a book I read a few years ago, The Unattended Moment by Michael Paffard, the title of which is taken from Dry Salvages in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. 

Paffard's book is largely an anthology of writings by people who have had what he describes as “...brief flashes of out of the ordinary as to seem to belong to a dimension other than the quotidian, to be epiphanies of another order of reality: unattended moments in the sense that they do not seem to fit into our ordinary pattern of experience...”. 

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Footprints on the Sands of Time

2016 marks the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, a man so influential that he is regarded as the ‘father’ of landscape architecture. 

In partnership with The Capability Brown Festival, VisitEngland is promoting ‘Year of the English Garden’ as a key theme for 2016, in celebration of England’s many beautiful gardens.
Lancelot Brown was a man who left deep “footprints on the sands of time” (A Psalm of Life by H. W. Longfellow). In the spirit of this year’s festival of Brown’s achievements and legacy, and the art and design of gardens, The Garden Gallery will celebrate and promote the role of contemporary sculpture and ceramics as key elements in the creation of beautiful gardens, a tradition reaching back centuries and now an integral part of garden design.

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Blown Away by Sioban Coppinger FRBS

The Power of Art

Recently, I visited Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The galleries were full, with visitors of all ages and many nationalities engaging with the profound and thought-provoking displays. It was heartening to find the RA confronting the issues raised by Ai Weiwei through his work in a measured, sensitive and deeply thoughtful way. Visitors are encouraged to take photographs and share them through social media.  Ai Weiwei’s work speaks for itself and testifies to the power of art to make us think about other people’s lives, the problems they face when they do not live in a democratic society where freedom of expression is taken for granted, and what we can do to help bring about change for the better. 

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