I used to visit Painswick Rococo Garden maybe once or twice each year. Now that I’m here for at least two days a week, seasonal snapshots have been replaced with much more detailed pictures of what’s going on. I have more time to pay attention and I’m noticing just how quickly things change. During my first two months, I’ve watched tulips and Peonies bloom, their petals fade, curl and drop; apple and pear blossom drift across the orchard; dandelion clocks float into the fields beyond. I’ve learned that I must grab the opportunity to experiment with what’s in season, or think carefully about how I use limited supplies. For instance, tulip bulbs are expensive, so it was understandable that Steve, the head gardener at Painswick, was reluctant to part with too many. After all, he and his team nurture them for the enjoyment of visitors rather than to be beheaded in their prime by an inquisitive artist. However, he was able to to offer me a handful of tulips that were growing stray in the Kitchen Garden. Foolishly, I stretched my sample of tulip dye over too many sheets of paper, so didn’t have enough for a second coat. Hence, the resulting colours are very pale and so of no use for making successful Anthotypes. Now I shall have to wait a whole year before the chance to work with tulips comes around again.
Although the garden provides a plentiful supply of Lilac flowers, I almost lost my chance to work with them, because I thought that the pale blue blossoms would not yield strong enough colour. In fact, the extracted dye is rich in tone. Flowers are at their most potent when they have just opened, so I should have tested the lilac as soon it came into flower, rather than only just managing to catch it before it went over. Having learned my lesson, I now pick and mash up a tiny amount of anything that looks promising (making sure that my chosen plants are not poisonous)
Here are two lilac-coated papers. On the left: a piece of heavily-textured Karuki Grass paper, produced from the fibers of indigenous plants high in the mountains surrounding Katmandu in Nepal. It’s very absorbent and drinks up dye immediately, hence the deep purple-grey shade. The paper on the right is Arches cold pressed water colour paper (300 gsm) which didn’t look very promising, but look at the difference in the next photograph: after seven layers of lilac dye, the colour has built up to a rich golden brown…
This week’s Tuesday sun shone bright on Painswick, so I decided to begin exposing a sheet of lilac paper. The transparency image is a 19th century etching of a tattooed man. This feels like an appropriate subject for an Anthotype because tattoos are permanent art only for as long as the person whose body they adorn stays alive. Do tattoo artists concern themselves with the thought that their art won’t last forever? When I first conceived this project, my idea was simple: take iPhone photographs of the garden and the produce grown here, then print them as Anthotypes. However, as my research progresses, new possibilities are presenting themselves. Visitors to the garden bring stories to share: memories sparked by the knowledge that my prints won’t be fixed. Musicians and actors have an instinctive understanding of the ephemeral because they too create art “in the moment, for the moment”. Whilst sitting next to the lilac bush, mashing its delicate blooms, I remembered my mother’s love for the music of Ivor Novello. The song We’ll Gather Lilacs In the Spring Again drifted through my mind and mingled with the sounds of the garden: gentle breeze and birdsong.
Whilst taking a walk to pick the Lilac flowers, I spotted what looked like a Damselfly hovering just above the ground. The path is shaded by tall trees, so it took a minute of intense concentration before I realised that what I was actually looking at was a lime tree seed, caught and dancing on the breeze. On another occasion, I thought it would be fun to take photographs of the gardening team as they weeded the Exedra garden, but when I got there, my eyes and imagination were captured by raindrops hanging from honeysuckle support wires. I spent over half an hour examining them, but thought it time time well spent because I found the Exedra captured in these tiny, watery lenses. It’s good to slow down and enjoy such moments of discovery: to listen to the stories that this beautiful garden has to share.