A Transforming Place

Summer is the perfect time to look about one’s outdoor spaces and see one’s self reflected there. In a garden, one’s inner life overflows to the outside world. A gardener allows one’s environment to become affected by the mystery that lies within. It becomes a space overflowing with one’s own nature – Claude Monet’s garden becomes his contemplation as well as a reflection of his inner state of being manifest in a physical form. They both feed off of one another- a swinging between the yin and the yang- creating an intense harmony of soul. Monet never felt the need to leave this garden toward the end of his life because it was a true reflection of himself and satisfied his inner need as well as providing  meaningful contact with the world. The garden is a place where color, harmony, design, intuitive relationships and choices are sought after, a place of creativity (man’s rightful activity).

The garden becomes a primary platform that allows one to be at ease with the world. It allows nature to affect us with its beauty. This beauty becomes a conduit for reverie, a dwelling place of images, a fluid space for the imagination. In Coleridge’s, Anima Poetae, he muses, “In looking at objects of nature while I am thinking…I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking for a symbolic language for something within me that already exists, than observing anything new. Even when the later is the case, yet still I have always an obscure feeling as if that new phenomena were the dim awakening of a forgotten or hidden truth of my inner nature.” (1805) Harmony with the world overflows to creativity and invention. Ancient Greeks studied philosophy in a garden for good reason. Such a space presented those who sought wisdom with wisdom itself- the harmonious organization of the world.

Great outdoor spaces are a combination of human endeavor and the free movement and flow of nature herself- entering the same space and manifesting herself freely in her rambling way, unhindered by human effort, softening all human architecture and incorporating it into the rhythm inherent in nature. Epic and sublime spaces join the forces of man’s  influence on the landscape as well as concede control over to nature herself. Epidarus is an example- a theatre space with the over-arching sky and grand mountains  as background. This theatre exist in the conscious presence of the gods – a space that recognizes their dwelling place and the realm of their activity and authority over man and the world. The Greeks recognized Sophia(wisdom) as a balance between man’s effort to understand nature and one’s relationship to the gods.

In gardening, one must allow for the unexpected- a seedling dropped by a bird appears; the flower you wanted turns out to be the wrong color; the plant you thought would fit perfectly takes over and some things refuse to grow- Nature is ultimately in control and one can only carefully tend it to go in a certain direction. I find this analogous to painting- once involved in a piece it tends to take on a life of its own, the artist acting as a secondary force to its manifestation and in many ways the painting turns out surprisingly different but appropriate from one’s original intentions. A landscape begun on a bright day, which never seems to return, leads to a more moody piece- more effective and deeply felt- than that clear, blue sky day. Nature has lead one to accept her own designs. Painting the landscape, one must accept the ebb and flows of nature like the tide. It is best not to force one’s intentions but accept what presents itself freely before one’s consciousness. “The spiritual, mental, and imaginative movement that takes place (in the poet’s or artist’s) mind never loses touch with what the eye perceives in the appearances that surround it. Indeed, it is in and through the appearances that the movement takes place, culminating in a Zen-like vision of other more boundless worlds than the one perceived by the ocular organ…Sometimes the most intense journeys- the most visionary journeys- take place while one stays put, in moments of stillness unscorched by “passion’s heat”.” (Robert Pogue Harrison, Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition,p.119)


Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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