“Of all the communities we and wildlife find ourselves members of, the garden is one of the most intimate” writes The Guardian’s Nature Diary columnist, Paul Evans, in his book ‘How To See Nature’.
In Summer 2021 visual artist, Brigid Collins, and poet, Christine De Luca began working together in Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston, Edinburgh, where Brigid was Artist-in-Residence, feeling that their work could be complementary and that, together, could become potentially greater than the sum of the constituent parts.
American poet, Stanley Kunitz, understands how the totality of a garden becomes formed in your mind, as you move through it …in much the same way as you have to create the wholeness of a poem in your mind, by means of a process, by spending time in its company. Brigid and Christine were both willing to give time to this process. As Rowan Williams stated in a recent lecture on the Visual Arts:
“Art has a lot to do with time-taking for humans; we grow into our seeing. Epiphany is about acquiring habits of seeing differently, of taking time. It is not a lightning raid on the world but something to probe.”
– Rowan Williams, at New College Festival of Books and Belief (2022)
Brigid and Christine began by simply spending time in the garden, often together, looking and learning, paying close attention.
“The most precious gift we can offer is our attention”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk
“Attention is the beginning of devotion”
– Mary Oliver, poet
Poem No. 1
A sufficient quantity
The atoms of the wild rose petals
dance before the eye, create
a heart-shape in the mind, and with
the merging of two such probabilities
(where is the eye? where is the rose?)
decide they like the certainty
the rose brings to the blind.
Sufficient in size is the tiny wild rose
sufficient in staying power: a day
a transience. And the perfume
whose secret atoms break all bounds
all probabilities, conjures a presence.
Brigid understands how change takes place on many levels while spending time in a garden, by being amongst the plants and other species that live there: “Watery materials, such as natural inks and watercolour served me very well in Spring and Summer and suited my responses to the flowers that were bursting forth all about me. As my eyes roved around the garden and landed – as do that of the bees that have been doing their thing around me, while I do mine – on flowering grasses, such as the magnificent Dierama pulcherrium, also known as Wand Flower, or Angel’s Fishing Rods (for obvious reasons!), wafting in the warm breeze, the fluidity of watercolour helped me in leaning into this and absorb a cadence, capable of lulling even the seemingly inconsolable state of mind.”
As Autumn progressed, these materials also led Brigid on a journey deeper and deeper into the entanglements of the garden, as the foliage and flowers fell away, causing her to observe “I loved how little pieces of falling plants would land in my paint as I worked!”
The starkness of Winter, although arriving at a slow enough pace, nevertheless felt abrupt and this seemingly sudden starkness seemed to call for other materials and approaches. Brigid describes how, on one bright crisp January day “I incorporated pastels into a watercolour and ink study of Hellebores and Aconites and I feel that this allowed me to transition to a new way of working. The subsequent study, of the Japanese Larch and Tree of Heaven that stand together, down by the Tower, was made using pastels and Conté a Paris and, from here on, everything changed…
All of the studies that I went on to make in the garden, through the Spring of 2022, were made using mostly chalk (soft) pastels, with touches of Conté a Paris. This allowed a depth of field that had not seemed possible for me to depict with watercolour and encouraged me to stay with a group of plants and trees for what felt like days of pure bliss. I’m sure that the changes of the garden and in me as we moved through the seasons are possible to see through the materiality of these artworks.”