Introducing Art Unbound at Painswick Rococo Garden

PUBLISHED: 13:26 03 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:26 03 June 2019

Painswick Rococo Gardens

Painswick Rococo Gardens


This summer all eyes will be on the world-class sculptures coming to Painswick’s playful Rococo Garden

Graceful curves, elegance, asymmetry, amorous encounters, light-hearted entertainment, appreciation of nature mixed with a warm provocative spirit are some of the delightful elements which make up the rococo period.

The rococo movement was an artistic era that emerged in France in the late 17th and early 18th centuries to push against the strict austere religious ordered designs of the Baroque. It brought a sense of fun, freedom and expression that many found refreshing although it did raise a few eyebrows.

Art today still contains that element of surprise and awe and indeed raises eyebrows, but instead of being confined to the walls of a traditional gallery, the walls have literally come down. Over the past few years renowned curator Anna Greenacre has been using beautifully-landscaped garden settings as a gallery backdrop. Many will have heard about the successful on form exhibition at Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, which last year brought together 400 sculptures and attracted 10,000 visitors. This summer, however, the world's attention will be on the Rococo Garden in Painswick, one of the few remaining gardens of this famous artistic period. This new exciting venture called Art Unbound - the first partnership between Anna and the Rococo Garden - will feature 18 sculptors' work in a variety of media. Whilst on form focussed on stone, Art Unbound will incorporate the artistic disciplines of bronze, ceramics, glass, copper, wire, wood, wire and found objects as well as stone.

Having spent a peaceful and contented hour wandering around this stunning garden, designed in the 1740's by Benjamin Hyett to delight guests at Painswick House, where every corner reveals gem upon gem whether it is the intricate flower or exquisite buildings, I can see why Anna is excited to curate a show in what must be one of the most spectacular backdrops. The challenge of course has been deciding where each of the 120 works of art are to be situated, not only so each piece can sing its own song, but that there is harmony between neighbouring sculpture and the garden itself. Planning such an exhibition has been a lengthy business. Anna and Garden Director Dominic Hamilton first talked through the initial idea a couple of years ago and it has taken 12 months of serious planning to fulfil the vision.

Reflection of the Eagle House - piece by Alex JonesReflection of the Eagle House - piece by Alex Jones

"To start with I had to decide who was going to exhibit and I literally toured Scotland and England to choose the sculptors. I had a longlist of about 35 and I looked for those I knew who could make site-specific pieces. I visited them in their studios and took time to find out about their processes and what interested them," says Anna.

"As the rococo period was about playfulness, sensual work and frivolity, those were the qualities I was looking for."

It certainly will be a show to entice, intrigue and delight; and playfulness is indeed a key theme. Giant wooden butterflies will greet visitors in the café along with an enormous death-head hawkmoth with its 10ft wing span, which in real life apparently finds its way into bee hives and steals their honey! These powerful contemporary creations are from wood sculptor Alex Jones, who has appeared on BBC's Spring Watch and will be seen on 'Flog It!' as a featured artist. Playfulness can also be seen in Mike Chaikin's kinetic sunflowers inspired by the garden's wonderful display of sunflowers; and a giant lionfish will be moving overhead as visitors enjoy coffee and cake below! Mike has the ability to make his pieces move in some spectacular way, whilst striving to make sculptures look beautiful when still. Sophie Dickens, great great granddaughter of the literary giant Charles, is also creating a troupe of Capuchin monkeys scuttling over the garden wall, bronze rats presiding over apples in the apple shed and a lone gilded wolf keeping watch over his secret lair. Meanwhile father and daughter Joe and Jenny Smith will be presenting a six foot Perfume Bottle, a humorously idiosyncratic Pear and its fruity partner, a Windfall Apple, all made from layer upon layer of slate.

Trying to maintain the balance of keeping every artist happy, putting the right piece in the right slot and ensuring it will not upset nature in anyway, is a challenging role. But Anna is the ideal person to keep the peace.

Corylus - hand carved from a single oak trunk by Alison CrowtherCorylus - hand carved from a single oak trunk by Alison Crowther

"You do have to keep calm, keep strong and stick to your guns if you think something should go somewhere. You must think of the dynamics of all the exhibits to each other, and not consider them in isolation and keep listening to everybody. Of course, there's the sensitivity of the natural environment to consider and you need to keep your humour," she says.

Unlike white cube galleries where the walls are still, the 'natural' gallery is ever growing and is very much alive, as Anna has experienced on many occasions.

"As all works are for sale, they inevitably get sold. But unlike in indoor spaces, it is not quite enough to put a red dot on the piece. We did this before in on form and discovered that the snails ate the red dots, so we tried nail varnish and the snails also ate that, so for this exhibition we plan to put a dowel in the middle of the number marker if it's sold!"

Carved oak sphere by Alison Crowther amongst the trees in the gardenCarved oak sphere by Alison Crowther amongst the trees in the garden

There is also the matter of manoeuvring the precious sculptures not only into the Rococo Garden but within the grounds. Head gardener Roger Standley has played a vital part in helping them solve the logistics.

"The garden doesn't have big tractor access; everything has to go through a footpath so we have sourced a variety of exciting vehicles to bring the pieces in. Roger has been really accommodating and has proved a real problem solver," explains Dominic.

Tony Lattimer's three giant ceramics; high-fired stoneware with slip-glazes casually painted, will be taking centre stage in the top pond and act like the three graces. But in order not to disturb the breeding season of the newts below has meant the team has had to put three stones in the water ready so the stones can be placed on them. And Anna's decision about placing Clare Trenchard's acrobatic hares has had to change to accommodate grass mowing.

"Sculpture and gardens are natural partners and I am thrilled to be working with this lovely team at the Rococo Garden in such a wonderful area, solving new challenges. I am really excited to be working with such a range of new sculptors and their variety of materials," admits Anna.

Gilded Wolf, by Sophie DickensGilded Wolf, by Sophie Dickens

In keeping with the playfulness of the 1740s design, Anna has worked her own magic on the overall layout so that around each corner, there will be an element of awe and surprise, be it huge glass pieces hanging from a tree or giant forms emerging from dipping ponds. There is also an element of elegance and flamboyancy too. Stroud-based Kim Francis, has created a pair of Mobius Spheres carved in Portland stone, inspired by the paths that wind playfully throughout the Rococo Garden. She has also created a stunning sensual piece which has a swan-like quality to it. David Begbie has chosen to exhibit sculptures in the rococo spirit, mixing abstract and figurative subjects which emphasise both classical and flamboyant decorative themes; whilst Peter Beard's beautiful ceramic objects, although modern, owe an allegiance to history, giving them a timeless quality. Aly Brown enjoys creating semi-figurative sculptures that seem to emerge gracefully from the blocks of stone she uses. Words cannot do justice to either the garden itself or the exciting body of work that will be shown at Painswick throughout the three-month exhibition period. It needs to be seen to be fully appreciated and I for one am looking forward to seeing the results of Anna, Dominic and the rest of the team's efforts. Seasonal changes from late spring, to the height of Summer will also add the additional element of light, growth and atmosphere.

But for all concerned, be it artist, gardening team or curator, the vision is the same. They want their audience to feast on what they see; love it, want it and return for more. Garden Director Dominic Hamilton, who has already worked his own wonders on the famous garden (including a terrific rustic play area in the woodlands) is hoping Art Unbound will attract both media and public attention.

"Our snowdrops already attract 18,000 people within January and February, but this event gives them a reason to come back for another element of surprise. There is always something new to see in the garden. We have 75 volunteers who work in the grounds. They treat it as their own which helps give the garden a magical quality because it is cared for so lovingly," he says.

"I am hoping this exhibition will put ourselves on the map as a place where creative stuff is happening and it gives people a chance to see the garden in a different light."

Art Unbound which features the work of Peter Beard, David Begbie, Aly Brown, Mike Chaikin, Alison Crowther, Sophie Dickens, Luke Dickinson, Kim Francis, Alex Jones, Tony Lattimer, Sophie Marsham, Rebecca Newnham, Yorgos Papadopoulos, Joe and Jenny Smith, Guy Stevens, Clare Trenchard, Anthony Turner and Dominic Welch, takes place from May 26 to September 8, 2019.

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