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Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Garden in Leicestershire

Graham Cousins went house-hunting with a spade. He and his wife Jenny decided to sell their comfortable suburban house on the outskirts of Leicester because its modest garden did not afford them the scope to fulfill his childhood dream of some acreage with a view. In 1981 they drove up an unpaved and impossibly narrow drive in Walton, Leicestershire, and found a wildly overgrown acre + of land, with a little brick bungalow. Undeterred that the house was hardly large enough, Graham strode determinedly around the property, turned the dirt in several locations, and with a satisfied smile, pronounced this their new home.

Even though Graham was Director of Leicester University’s bookstore operation and there was one child still at home, the Cousins family found time to turn a forgotten refuse yard (Orchards is the property’s official name, after the grove of fruit trees along the eastern property line) into one of rural England’s treasured but hidden private gardens. In the now expanded brick cottage and in the garage (which doubled as a dining room during construction) there are fascinating series of photos documenting the stunning developments over the years. Among the family portraits is a large photo of Graham standing next to British TV personality Roy Lancaster, commemorating a peak moment in the family history, the garden’s appearance on national TV. (Ask Graham about the inquisitive cows that almost ruined the shoot.)

Graham in his garden

Orchards is not a sentimental garden; there is no irrigation system, and plants must survive without artificial support. In keeping with this ruggedness (which encourages native plants to flourish) Graham ripped out the trellises because he felt they were an unnatural crutch for the roses; the roses that remain have adjusted and are wilder and stronger.

Thousands of Japanese, Dutch, German, and British tourists have seen the garden. Even so, for so public a garden it is a very private place. Walton is a small village, and there is no parking for tour buses, so most visitors arrive in their own vehicles, parking across the street and walking up the now paved drive, aware that they are entering a singular and mysterious vision.

The garden gate

Let Yourself Go
From the beginning, instinct is the best guide. There is no single entrance to the garden, and there is no single route; everything is designed to encourage wandering. For example, through the weathered brick arch, the inviting overlook at the far end beckons, where there are benches and a hint of the landscape beyond. But on the way there is a large reflecting pond, and the sight of a sequestered Asian tea house that is worthy of investigation. However, a bank of unusually sensuous Ponytail grass (Stipa tenuissima) dotted with field poppies (papaver rhoeas) and rose campion (lychnis coronaria), comes into view, and the visitor’s purpose is again interrupted. By this casual and subtle system of invitation and redirection, the garden can never be experienced the same way twice.

Green, How I Love You, Green (Lorca 1899-1936)
On the left side of the garden, a grand and ancient apple tree (200 years old? older?) casts a magnificent shadow, the centerpiece of a stunning display of different shades of green; in fact, green is the only leaf color here. Graham’s affinity for the exuberance of Spain, where he traveled extensively in his youth before settling back in his native Midlands, combines with his English passion for understatement, in a subdued tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca’s favorite color. Astutely avoiding artificial leaf colors, he forces the eye to differentiate among so many ostensibly monochromatic tones; dark greens become more deeply verdant, lighter greens seem more yellow.

The end of "The Avenue" in winter

Borrowed Views
The gravel overlook commands a view across the Leicestershire fields to the village of Gilmorton. A perceptive eye will see that the spire of All Saints Church is one anchor point of the garden’s main axis, and that the other is the bed in the master bedroom! Here Graham capitalizes on the garden’s location; the borrowed vista implies that the land is much bigger, that the cows and the fields are all part of a larger picture.

The pond in winter

Lie Back and Relax
The wildest and least explored area is the Orchard itself. Graham lets the ground cover of native meadow grasses overgrow here, to the delight of the neighborhood cats who hunt through the dense overgrowth. On a lazy summer day naptime can be spent in a hammock slung between the pear, apple and plum trees.

In Season and Out of Season
Graham believes that gardening (and garden-viewing) should be a year-round delight, and to that end the natural life-cycles of the plantings are respected and coordinated so that the garden is worth exploring throughout the year.

Rooms for the Imagination
Another borrowed view is the pool. At first glance its size feels out of scale with the rest of the garden; the expanse of water seems to dwarf the ring of grass around it. Yet it is a serene oculus that brings the sky more intensely into the garden; the clouds, birds, and tree-tops are all mirrored on the surface, accentuating the depth and height that connects the life of the garden with the life of the air and the vistas of the world beyond.

This post was co-authored with Paul Crabtree.

A future post will include an interview with Graham Cousins about his philosophy of gardening.

For more information please visit http://www.grahamsgreens.com/

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Isca Greenfield-Sanders

Isca Greenfield-Sanders

Recently I interviewed the artist Isca Greenfield-Sanders when she visited Paulson Bott Press to make a new series of prints. You can find that interview here: http://www.paulsonbottpress.com/about/oktp/oktp_greenfield1.pdf
We continued to talk about the source for her images. Her foray into abstract imagery based on the same process is especially interesting. Foregrounding a cast-off of a cast-off. Several layers of reality to think about…

Wading I (Blue)
Mixed Media Oil on Canvas, 2011
70 x 70 inches
Courtesy iscags.com

Q: When you find images on eBay, you don't know what you're getting, do you?

A: No, I buy thousand-lot slides. It takes days to go through a collection. I have a light table and a set of projectors. I wear gloves and a mask, because often these things are dirty and gross. They belong to smokers. So I go through them, scan the ones I want, and rebag them.

Q: Do you throw out the ones that you aren’t going to use?

A: I have a junk shop in my neighborhood that I supply with a lot of slides.

Q: Do you sometimes get into a painting and then decide the imagery doesn’t work at all? Do you scrap it?

A: Occasionally, I think an image will have more life than it ends up having. I was trained in watercolor first. So I can make anything into what I think of as a pretty decent watercolor/colored pencil image. From that point, some things can become oil paintings, but that then is subject to the enlargement process, and some things don't enlarge well. They are wonderful small. I'm surprised occasionally when I think something is going to end up being an oil painting and then it just never gets that far.

Q: And you just don't know in advance? You just have to work it out?

A: Yeah. Sometimes you have to try it in a different way. So sometimes it can be a large watercolor, but it can't be a large oil painting, or sometimes it works as an oil, but just a small oil.

Q: I just love the blue in the print “Mountain Stream.” What color was it in the slide?

A: The slide had lost a lot of its magenta. It had turned a sickly green.

Mountain Stream, 2012
21 x 21 inches
Courtesy paulsonbottpress.com

Q: So there was no color relationship to the original slide?

A: I did multiple watercolor studies of this image. That mountain has been purple, black, gray.

Q: With the blue, you fall into it. I heard you mention abstract. Tell me more about that.

A: Yes. Part of my “Light Leak” series was a subset called "Film Edge" images. They are literally from the end of the roll of film.

If the subject of my work is in part the medium of photography—as, obviously, seen through the eyes of a painter—these are just physically the film that no image was captured on. But the celluloid itself is just so beautiful and had such strong landscape connotations. Sometimes I have rotated it for horizon purposes.

They are simple, nonfigurative landscape pieces. They will be done in yellow and purple, which is a nod to the fragility of film, because when it goes bad, it predictably goes in those two ways.

Film Edge (Yellow Tree, Pink Sky)
Mixed Media Oil on Canvas, 2011
28 x 28 inches
Courtesy iscags.com

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I am working on some cave paintings. Any time there's a phrase that the general non-art-world public understands and that pertains to the act of making art, like a cave painting—your plumber would know what a cave painting is—that is of extreme appeal to me.

Q: The accessibility?

A: Just the phrase, yes. I have made some paintings of figures emerging from a cave. They're completely in silhouette and seen from within the cave looking towards the mouth. So you're seeing the mouth of the cave and then the figures in silhouette and against a forest.

Q: Where did they come from?

A: They are slides from 1967. I don’t know where they are from in terms of location.

Q: Taken from within a cave?

A: This one was in a cave; for the other two I added the cave.

Q: The black is powerful.

A: It's Mars Black. It has my grid in it. My paintings are a sutured-together paper collage beneath that's sealed and then painted atop.

Q: So that's visible?

A: Yeah, there's a gridded black atmosphere in that. I let them dry for almost a year, and then they are varnished. So they're very rich, want-to-lick-it black, like maple syrup or molasses.

For more information:

Cave Painting
Mixed Media Oil on Canvas, 2011
42 x 42 inches
Courtesy iscags.com