William Morris Society Article

Through the Garden with William Morris

Slayer of the winter, art thou here again?
O welcome, thou that’s bring’st the summer nigh!
The bitter wind makes not thy victory vain,
Nor will we mock thee for thy faint blue sky.
Welcome, O March! whose kindly days and dry
Make April ready for the throstle’s song,
Thou first redresser of the winter’s wrong!
William Morris, March

I have been keeping a blog as I develop my work and in March I added the above poem – it seemed to sum up how I was feeling at the time after a long harsh winter where the brighter colours that stayed in my mind were the reds and yellows of Dog Wood; the undulating shapes that lodged there were inspired by the northward drive across Devon to Great Torrington.

I am an abstract landscape painter who flirts with sculpture, digital media and context-based work and having been offered an exhibition of paintings at The Plough Arts Centre in Torrington, North Devon, was asked to consider gallery workshops which provided the exciting possibility of cross-discipline educational work. While studying the landscape around Torrington, RHS Gardens Rosemoor and especially the unique Common lands that roll down to the river, I learnt of plans to show original works by William Morris in July at Rosemoor, which seemed to present a fantastic opportunity of trying to link the two exhibitions together in a meaningful way.

In 2004 I made a work at Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset with 1000 children called ‘Coloured Stick Garden’, a thousand sticks hammered into the ground as a square, on three sides of each stick bright bands of colours and on the fourth blue.  At one place on a hillside the view of the colourful square transformed into a pure blue cube – a magical moment. This work had been a response to Claude Cormier’s ‘The Blue Stick Garden’ a work inspired by Gertrude Jekyll and her love of the ‘Blue Poppy’ first shown at the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. It led me to create other ‘stick’ works most recently a row of 100 square sticks along a road in the Blackdown Hills. On two sides the sticks were painted blue and on the other two they were green, on moving past they appeared to turn colour. If you glanced in a rear view mirror the sticks behind were simultaneously a different colour to those in front – an optical surprise that was approved of by the local farmers!

Walking through Rosemoor Gardens, which I hadn’t visited since they were first opened over 20 years previously, I was struck by their maturity; the views to Torrington two miles in the distance, the excitement with which the staff discussed William Morris and the openness to talk about large scale Morris inspired sculptural works that may challenge both venue and visitor. As a painter I have my preferred colours and technique, when I look at William Morris’s work I am drawn to his foliage patterns and a very specific colour palette, it is this that has been the starting point for this schools project.

Having been awarded Arts Council of England funding the project is in full flow with 1200 1.5metres tall garden stakes being painted in six schools across North Devon. The children’s teachers have also made a ‘stake’ work that will sit in the gallery alongside my new paintings, this time using my colour palette to perpetuate the conceptual link. On leaving the formal gardens at RHS Gardens Rosemoor you will be met by a meadowed field of 500 Morris inspired designs, as you pass they will change to a single calm colour. Behind Lady Anne’s House at the end of the landscape gardens a circular Morris tile design will emerge from 300 stakes as you climb along the footpath and if you wander across the large Arboretum to the Gazebo you will encounter a reconnection with Great Torrington. A line of ‘stakes’ leading your eye across the Arboretum, up the trunk of a young silver birch through a gap in the trees, to a further sculpture on Torrington Common and on to the town Church beyond, behind which sits Palmer House, the original home of the Gazebo which was built by Sir Joshua Reynolds brother in law and from where the painter made several works.

This will be the largest participatory sculptural work that I have made to date. Will it work? I hope so. What I know is that I also ‘do not want art for a few any more than education for a few’; I would like to think that William Morris would approve.

Tim Martin

1 Comment »

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  1. It looks very exciting, Tim – I’m looking forward to seeing it in situ.


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