[VISITING ARTIST] The Mower Against Gardens (2018, acrylic)

This striking work by London-based artist Ariella Wolf was created using a brush formed of natural rosemary leaves. The paper was placed directly on grass in the open air within an urban park, before being strongly worked such that the paper has become heavily textured by the surface underneath. Coupled with the vivid greens and yellow colours and textured brushwork, the effect is of light shining through fresh leaves in a beautiful garden.

And yet the painting’s title invites us to reflect further:

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,
Did after him the world seduce,
And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,

Where nature was most plain and pure.

Does the painting depict the original prelapsarian Garden so strongly present in its absence and irrecoverability within Marvell’s poem? Or is it instead evidence of the moral decay Marvell sees implicit in the cultivation of the natural world by fallen humanity, the ‘dead and standing pool of air’, in which species are corrupted by hybridisation, plants learn vanity and natural purity is lost as an Edenic state of innocence? The garden itself, both in life and in the painting, does not speak; but our losses and yearnings could perhaps be said to speak through it. Nature and culture; innocence and original sin; this composed and yet energetic work is both elegantly simple and yet rich in classical, poetic and Biblical allusion.

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