Claude Monet is the best known, but by no means the only artist whose garden was his lifelong muse. Closer to home the flower painter Criss Canning relies on her husband, plantsman David Glenn, to keep interesting subjects for her work growing in their garden at Lambley Nursery outside Ballarat. Lucy Culliton’s still lifes and pictures of her garden Bibbenluke, in the Monaro, are full of the love she feels for the world she has created; paper artist Colleen Southwell builds her fantasy botanicals out of close observation of the cycle of life and death in her garden outside Orange.
Garden as inspiration takes a different form for sculptor Stuart McLachlan and photographer Simon Cardwell. A recent collaborative project, called Acquiesce, saw the pair create mythological forest landscapes from materials foraged largely from McLachlan’s garden. The skeletal forms of deer, sculpted from watercolour paper by McLachlan, play out various narratives within the landscapes, which were lit and photographed by Cardwell, and printed as immersive 1.5m x 1.2m images.
The world created is both familiar and strange. The more you look the more uncanny it becomes. The off-kilter sensation is a function of scale. The plant tumbling over the cliff face is a thread of maidenhair; the lush, round leaves edging a mossy hollow are dichondra; and that flower spike towering over a wave of conifers is the tiny flower stem of a succulent.
Cardwell and McLachlan have been friends for decades and work as solo artists as well as in collaboration. The Acquiesce series is the first to place McLachlan’s intricate paper sculptures within a “natural” world. Their fantasy forest landscape draws on memory and myth and is a vision they build together, starting from drawings that block out the main forms, and then adding in detail in the form of garden green life.