About ‘Through the Garden’

The aim of ‘Through’ is to extend my professional practice as an artist by developing a new body of work for an exhibition at The Plough Arts Centre in Torrington as well as delivering a large scale outdoor sculpture project involving several hundred young people at RHS Garden Rosemoor, on Torrington Common and at The Plough.

In terms of engaging audiences this project is very much seen as having several important outcomes for the partners involved.

  • To build on and compliment an exhibition of works by William Morris at RHS Garden Rosemoor, during the same period.
  • To extend the educational work of both organisations through engagement in the arts with a range of local schools and colleges, specifically targeting secondary schools.
  • For the final works to build new audiences, to extend and enhance visitor experience to all venues with the hope that audiences visiting one venue may make an informed decision to then visit the other venues and works.

For me this project provides a real opportunity to consolidate and integrate my development as a painter/sculptor with my work as a curator and educator. I have exhibited in galleries for many years but more recently have focused on other artistic areas from developing my curatorial practice to recently producing ‘Night/Day’, a digital short film funded by the Film Council. The offer of a show at The Plough and my recent sculpture/new media work in Somerset and with BHAAM, a group of artists in the Blackdown Hills, has led me to consider how I can put engagement at the heart of my work and how this project could be the springboard to other further integrated work.

My paintings are inspired by the landscape, I take various elements that interest me and rework these in to single images within a controlled palette of colour. Similarly William Morris drew inspiration for his wallpaper and furniture designs, block prints and paintings from nature and the landscape within similar boundaries.

This project provides an opportunity for young people to explore the work of the single most influential designer of the nineteenth century and to put elements of his colours, designs and patterns back into the landscape by making a series of six sculptures drawing inspiration from the two exhibitions: four of the sculptures will be at Rosemoor and two in Torrington, they will have clear links to one another.

The works will most likely be in the form of ‘multiple stick sculptures’, a way of working I have successfully used since 2004 when I worked with Hestercombe Gardens to bring the award winning Quebec artist and architect Claude Cormier’s ‘Blue Stick Garden’ to Somerset. In response to this work I made a ‘coloured stick garden’ with 1000 children from across Somerset; on three sides of the metre high sticks were bands of different garden colours, the fourth sides and tops were painted blue. As you walked through the landscape you saw the multi-coloured sticks suddenly turn into a single blue cube from one viewpoint then disappear again. Since then I have made other ‘multiple stick’ based works most recently in September 2009 as part of ‘Border’; 14 artists responding to the Devon/Somerset border. In this work a roadside row of 100 sticks changed colour depending on which way you were travelling. Motorists had the strange experience of seeing one colour through their windscreens and another if they glanced in their mirrors. The work generated a lot of interesting feedback.

The first small sculpture will be in the Plough Arts Centre around the central column in the Gallery surrounded by my paintings. This will link in colour and texture both to my work and to that of William Morris (it will be developed and delivered through a training day with teachers – see below). The second small sculpture will be on Torrington Common (permission has already been granted) – it will be multi-coloured on three sides and able to be viewed as a single colour from Rosemoor Gardens two miles away.

At this stage it seems sensible to aim to make four works at Rosemoor. Three inspired by the work of William Morris, one by my own work. This number will allow and encourage visitors to explore the extensive gardens from a different perspective; to create a journey that takes in areas of the gardens less well trod; to make surprising discoveries; as well as a link to Torrington in the distance.

Public engagement is vital to this project. For me it is not just about audiences seeing the work it is about involving people in the making of the work and then for this to impact on others in a meaningful way. Both organisations I intend to work with are committed to  developing learning opportunities for audiences, especially with the younger people we intend to work with. Ten schools and colleges have been identified by the venues from North and West Devon, including Budehaven, Great Torrington, Braunton and Marland School.

The project has been designed to offer some free access to Rosemoor to visit the sculptures after visiting work at The Plough. There will be free-ticketed events at both venues.

Both The Plough and the Royal Horticultural Society are keen to publicise and help interpret the work, both have marketing strategies; planned marketing tools include targeted press releases and e-flyers, the use of documentary video screens, etc. Opportunities will be maximised by using existing publications through the venues and local media, there will also be further specific project related print, such as a small booklet and map, and web-based information. It is hoped that by targeting and engaging a range of young people from across North and West Devon the project will attract people not normally engaged with the arts.

Here are the proposed stages of the project:

Stage one: Research and Making (March/May 2010)

  • To follow up research already made by creating a series of abstract landscape paintings based on the local area.
  • For the identified schools and colleges to be made aware of the project and links to the curriculum through the work of William Morris.
  • For a group of teachers from the identified schools and colleges to work with me, as a training day, to explore the themes of ‘Through’ and to then create a single sculpture, These ideas will then be taken back into the schools and colleges in order to work with children to create the elements for the other final sculptures. Materials and resources will be provided.
  • For the 1500 elements of the sculptures to be made in schools and colleges before June.

Stage two: Installation (June 2010)

There may be a need to install the sculptural works over a period of time, depending upon where the sculptures are situated and especially the needs of the gardens (i.e. before the meadow grass becomes established). Most of the work will be able to be installed over a few days. There will need to be support from the venues staff and volunteers.

There is an opportunity for the work behind Rosemoor House to be finished in situ. A group of approx 12 students could be involved in this. This could be achieved by installing the sticks with one side primed but unfinished. The fourth sides of the sticks could then be painted in situ to a design that only makes sense at one point. This could be a very dramatic work where, for example, a William Morris wallpaper design appears in perspective from a specific path.

Stage Three: Exhibition and Interpretation

The project will need good interpretation, including a map and well-organised marketing. The marketing departments of the venues have agreed to devote time to publicising the works.

I have agreed to lead a free artist’s walk at Rosemoor and a gallery talk at The Plough to explore the project.

As people normally pay to access Rosemoor consideration will need to be made as to how to access the sculptures in both locations for free. One possibility is that there is a number of invites printed that allows free access to both venues. There could also be the possibility of an invite only event targeting children and families that allows free access.

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