Six Recent ‘Hortus Conclusus’ Works

Oil pastel, gouache and sgrafitto on paper

Curious Grove


The Enclosure

Curious Beast

Curious Isle

Curious Garden

This series of work is an extension of the garden image I made collaboratively with Johann Christian Rohl earlier this year, which is intended as part of the forthcoming website of Sarah ‘The Curious One’ Parvin.

10 thoughts on “Six Recent ‘Hortus Conclusus’ Works

  1. I am adding my own voice to the chorus of approval from Liz, Phil and Rosie. There is such a strong sense of secrecy and mysticism in this series of work, which pulls me in and appeals to my incurable curiosity. Like Phil, I would love to explore further and see if I could unlock the secrets I know these magical places hold.

    • It’s interesting how these ideas gestate and hatch. When Johann and I were together in my studio trying to pull our practices as painters together so that we could jointly produce work for your forthcoming ‘Curious One’ website, it was the ‘garden’ image that we were working on. For several days we struggled to find ways forward. We both made individual elements… trees, buildings and shrubs… and moved them around in dozens of configurations, none of which worked. It felt like we were wading through treacle.

      At the point of despair, just when I suspect both of us thought the process couldn’t be made to work, late one afternoon the ‘enclosed garden’ idea came into my head. I sketched out a plan. It was pretty much what you see in the finished work we did: a low brick wall with chamfered corners, three apsidal bays and an archway. Johann and I agreed to start work on it the following day, after a good night’s sleep.

      He quickly rendered the enclosure in segments (so that we could adjust its size) working in oil pastel to produce the red brick I’d suggested as a contrast to all the green. As he made the sections, I assembled them on the black board. When we had the shape locked down, we began to place the garden elements within it. Almost immediately everything began to look good, largely because the brick walls worked so well compositionally as a framing-device. We knew the shape would sit beautifully on a landing-page for your website. There was still much work ahead, designing and rendering the various components of garden follies, trees, shrubs, flower-beds and fauna, and assembling them by playing with the image until we got something we were both happy with. But the working process between us of making compositions had been established, and we both felt confident with it. Basically it was like one of those ‘Fuzzy-Felt’ construction-kits kids used to play with, with a flocked-card base on which elements of felt cut-outs were arranged until pleasing images were created. (I’d had a Fuzzy-Felt ‘Farm’ kit when I was small, and I made images with tractors, chickens and pigs!) Thereafter we had a production-line going. We’d allocate ‘elements’ between us (there were never disagreements) and we’d work… assemble… work… assemble… work… assemble… until we were happy with the results.

      After Johann left at the end of his month at Ty Isaf, the ‘brick-walled enclosure’ was locked in my head as a compositional device I wanted to explore in terms of my own work, and when I was on holiday on the island of Bryher, I began.

      • It’s really interesting to read about your process, Clive and I appreciate the hard work you and Johann have put into The Curious One project. I loved Fuzzy Felts as a child, as a matter of fact I still do!!

        The walled garden is an inspired idea to lead people into my ongoing exploration of the British imagination, as my own interpretation of what you and Johann have created for me is that the garden also represents the Isle of Albion. This is such a perfect starting place for me!

        Peter Ackroyd wrote that the English imagination grows in confined spaces, hence our fascination with walled gardens. It is evident that your own imagination has taken glorious inspiration from your time on Bryher, an island one and a half miles long and half a mile wide, where the sea is ever present. For me, the ‘Hortus Conclusus’ series is not just an exploration of gardens but also of island living, in miniature, which is another reason why I find this work so fascinating.

  2. Beautiful, and great to see the four all together here. I’m with Liz, I love them all, I couldn’t choose a favourite. They all have a timeless and dreamy quality for me, and I want to go to these mysterious and wonderful gardens, climb over the walls, hang out there and explore 🙂

  3. Wonderful! There is no favourite, I love them all equally. I see the darkness is inside, then moves outside the enclosure. I can imagine your hand movements scribbling away frantically, yet there is a state of calmness about the whole. Now your holiday is over you will be working twice as hard no doubt!!! However is there a difference…..?xxL

    • Hello sweetheart. Yes, I do feel rested. It was a wonderful break in a glorious place. Island life is addictive, and I can quite see how it might seduce most thoroughly. I didn’t want to leave, and that was after three weeks. Would it drive me crazy after a while? Most likely, yes. But then every small community can feel isolated in the right circumstances, and can feel equally difficult to get away from.

      What really captured me on Bryher, a mere half mile wide and mile and a half long, was that the sea was omnipresent. You’re conscious of its proximity at every turn. There are elevated spots where you can see it, encircling, and at the very least it takes up a considerable portion of any view. That makes the light extraordinary, because it comes not only from above, but from the reflections of water in all directions.

      Though of you and Graham a lot while we were there, and whether we might see you soon.

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