The Artist’s Garden

Finally, the weather has turned sunny and warm. The air is fresh and everything is green from all the rain we’ve had in the past few weeks. Dogwood trees, lilac bushes and tree peonies are coming into bloom, while many tulips and other spring bulbs are still in their prime.

Yesterday, I went to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to see The Artist’s Garden, multiple exhibitions exploring the garden as object of beauty, inspiration to artists and even as social construct. The four exhibitions are:

  • Serenity, the Asian Garden
  • Flora, the Garden in Historical Art from the Permanent Collection
  • Down the Garden Path
  • The Immortal Garden

Robert Amos wrote a review of these exhibitions for the Times Colonist and included a photograph of Paul Drury’s A.C. Riley Drawing Plants in the Hothouse at Kew. I spent a long time looking at Drury’s drawing and subsequent print, admiring the subject matter and the execution. It is an interesting combination of figurative work and still life: the absorption and energy of the artist juxtaposed with the quiet life of the plants. I have been planning for a long time to do some sketches and paintings of gardeners at work. Perhaps this summer I’ll finally get around to it.

Of all the individual works of art, I was most taken with Emily Sartain’s watercolour and gouache painting, The Garden Sentinel (Lilium Auratium) and by the wood engravings Bittersweet and Iris by Eric H. Bergman.

I was curious about the term “wood engraving” and wondered how this differed from woodcut prints. A little research revealed that woodcuts are cut along the grain of the wood and wood engraving uses the end grain, which is a harder surface and more amenable to highly detailed work. I felt so inspired by Bergman’s Bittersweet that I went looking for my lino cut supplies. Incidentally, bittersweet is Celastrus Scandens, an evergreen vine that produces berries.

The notes for the exhibition made enjoyable reading. An excerpt from Adjunct Curator Patricia Kidd’s notes on “The Immortal Garden” follows:

From the time we left the Garden, . . . humankind has attempted to control nature, and that last great enemy, death. The objects chosen for this exhibition reflect artists’ attempts to immortalize the most exquisite but ephemeral work of nature: her flowers . . . Over centuries and within many cultures, artists laboured over the embellishment of . . . functional objects to preserve for us the joy of everlasting summer. In the presence of this rich array of decorative arts, we shut out the cold and gloom of winter and wander again in a Garden of Eden of our own making . . . Time and culture may seem to divide us: flowers, like art, unite us.

On the wall above my bed, there is a wall hanging that was pieced and quilted by my mother. It is the last thing I see before I turn off my bedside lamp and the first thing I see when I wake. It does indeed preserve for me the joy of everlasting summer.


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