As a painter of nature and landscape, I have also researched, developed and completed a series of paintings conveying how urban cultures manifest themselves in the design of urban public sites, parks, and gardens. I am interested in the physical form of the urban park as an aesthetic subject matter and I am intrigued by the possibilities it presents for visual interpretation and narrative. This series of paintings explores how landscape architects from the past and present define their vision of our place and role in nature. These parks become a visual testament to an evolution in thinking which reflects the philosophy of the time and the changing attitude to landscape. Nature is controlled, confined, recreated, carefully plotted and carved out in these parks, resulting in a depiction of urban culture and the aesthetic of an idealized landscape. It is in this rich articulation of space, this dialogue between culture and nature in which nature is architecturally constructed, that I find such complex material to interpret and paint.
Through painting urban parks I became interested in who designed the park, for whom they were designed and how their purpose has changed over time. Some of the parks I have painted, such as Nash’s Regent Park in London, were designed for the nobility whose homes were surrounded by the park. Hyde Park in London, had it’s beginning as a dog cemetery and as grounds for royal hunts. From royal grounds to peoples’ ground the 19th-century park represents a philosophical shift in urban planning. The Bois de Boulogne in Paris, modelled after Hyde Park in London, was designed to create open public space and was a deliberate attempt to bring nature to the people for it’s redeeming benefits. It was designed to be organic and to mimic the natural, untouched landscape. Over time the purpose and use of these parks has changed and people use the landscape in different ways than originally intended.
One park in particular, the Luxembourg Garden in Paris, with its formal, staggered, space and its 19th-century statues, provided me with the subject matter for which I was looking. The park represented a paradox: originally constructed as a representation of power and authority, it has become the playground for the people it was built to exclude. Many of the images depicted in the paintings are of statues that once represented the social power of an elite whose metaphors no longer have broad cultural resonance. Diluted by the passage of time they have become frozen metaphors, visual background objects that exist in a society indifferent to their meaning. This park with these odd juxtapositions was the cultural construction of nature for which I was looking and which I continue to explore.