A year of looking at plants and insects in symbiosis, contemplating our relationship and going nowhere …
22–28 November 2021
Private View: 23 November 2021, 6.30–8.30 PM
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‘Lo, will I now paint. And she took much gold, yea, much fine gold, and gat her a book and in the book, so that all men might see, painted she all the things that crawled upon the face of the earth, and all things seemly, lo that flew in the air, and all the things that swam in the waters that are under the earth, … and things of divers handicraft painted she, yea, even nose rings and rings for the toes painted she, until the people were wearied of her works, and verily no man mote stop her.’
Olivia Fanny Tonge A Curious Fragment
Life always continues to bring surprises, some more welcome than others.
A year in virtual isolation has led to a closer inspection of my locale and the minute; the subtle diurnal changes seamlessly passing into days and months. With few people to interact with, attention has been drawn to ‘my patch’, each day bringing a new perspective that previously would have flashed by in the busyness of business.
A daily inspection of the corner of Britain
that I call home reveals constant miracles and astonishments. The greatest gift I was given
was time … and during this time I have painted things I have both seen and hoped to draw into
my world through careful gardening and care; exploring the world of nature around me and our relationship with it – and how it can be understood and improved. I do not talk of manipulation, more an enlivened awareness and the intention of encouragement through nurture.
The title of this exhibition comes from Vladimir Nabokov. In his book The Gift, the main protagonist, Fyodor, is a young poet and writer. Fyodor is a Russian émigré living in Berlin, fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution. His father was a famous lepidopterist, travelling the world recording and collecting moths and butterflies, and it is through his father’s collection that Fyodor recalls his youth and his yearnings for his native country, to which, he comes to realise he might never return.
This story resounds with my personal history, as my maternal grand-mother was also a Russian émgiré. Although I never met her, as she died before I was born, I understand her heartache of being torn from all that was familiar and home, from personal accounts by those who knew her. In the book, Fyodor, like many refugees, seeks out the familiar and fellow nationals. In his new home of Berlin he attends the ‘salons’ of the Chernyshevki’s for a sense of community.
I have a vivid memory of being in Paris in my childhood and visiting such a group of émigrés who knew my grand-mother in their native Russia. To a person, clad in rich black, they huddled and clucked over me like chickens gathering round a newly discovered fat grub. I wish I had been able to engage with them more than my age and language skills afforded me. Nevertheless it is a memory imprinted upon my soul.
My reading of The Gift led me to a short story by Nabokov, Aurelian. The name of this story comes from the archaic Aurelian: An amateur collector of moths and butterflies. It has its root in Latin, aurum.
‘Gold is not a colour, but it nestles up to the colours and shows them off.’ – Derek Jarman
My paintings on ‘gold’ (Dutch metal gold leaf)
in part came from looking at iconography and Persian miniatures, as well as the Japanese Rimpa tradition of painting on gold. They will always fall short as they are far from perfect; nevertheless seeking perfection. The distressed gold and presentation deliberately reflects this shortfall, but holds a candle to those who perhaps were ‘afforded’ the uninterrupted focus and respect
for craft that is essential to perfection.
We are inextricably linked to nature and should not be distanced from it. It is accessible to
all – for nothing – apart from our time; even in sprawling cities such as here in London. It is truly miraculous, from the tiniest seed to … what John Evelyn, the seventeenth century gardener called, ‘the little souls of plants’. Almost, but not exclusively, all plants are reliant on the relentless work of insects …
The work on vellum is offered as a votive. This precious material is treated with veneration, offered up as an historical document which will perhaps stand the test of time – or not? They are of my time which is hardly any time at all in the grand scheme of things.
Botanical and entomological illustration, once
a service to discovery – now in our time is more about conservation. The paintings are almost all life-size rather than larger than life. Deliberately so, to invite closer inspection.
I ask only for quiet contemplation and for you to see how I see it.