notes on creative ideas and personal studio practice

Studio Journal

Foraging the Poetics of Nature

Foraging the poetics of nature: digital image of plant matter

Poetics of Matter 2, work in progress, digital image

What the brilliance of human beings has done to our planet. Brilliance with an inbuilt greed and a desire for power over nature and our fellow humans.

Oh, the things we pay attention to. Always, in the back of my mind (if not right at the front) is the creeping reality of climate upheaval.

My family rib me occasionally for washing all our soft plastics before collecting them for recycling (Recyclesmart, if they service your area, will collect soft plastics and all sorts of stuff from your door for free). I keep a couple of boxes in the laundry for ratty old clothes and towels I can’t really salvage, ready for textile recycling (Upparel are great for this). I give unwanted art materials to a local child care centre (but I sharpen the coloured pencils first). Hmmm…. must make that fire plan.


Some climate science stuff

But it just doesn’t seem enough. Indeed, it isn’t, but until we stop burning fossil fuels altogether, it just won’t be. Earlier this year I read climate scientist Joelle Gergis’s book Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope. I found it a very human, very relatable explanation of the climate issues currently facing us, and potential future ones. She writes with the feeling and personal emotion of an ordinary person, but with clear, understandable scientific explanations.

She urges us to experience and protect the natural beauty we are so fortunate to have. The thought of the loss of that, what our descendants will miss out on and have to cope with – discomfort, displacement, compromised health outcomes, lack of basic resources, unemployment, constant uncertainty – is not for the faint-hearted.

This morning I watched a webinar with The Australia Institute hosting a discussion with Jeff Goodell, author of Heat: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet. With the catastrophic fires currently underway in the northern hemisphere (not to mention our own climate calamities of 2019/20 and beyond) it seemed responsible to tune in. Goodall appears a calm, composed individual with a lot of research behind him, undertaking the huge task of alerting us to the fact we are just not prepared as a society for extreme heat. This might give the impression he’s all doom and gloom – but he’s not – just giving the facts, and urging us to prepare.

It would be a heartbreak if natural beauty and biodiversity were looked at, by future generations, as a nostalgic thing, something from an idealised past. It must be looked at – now – with fresh eyes, with purpose, with an attitude of appreciation and a willingness to protect.


How to look up

Aside from concrete action, mental and emotional preparation are crucial. Take some time out to notice details. Beauty, unusual details, weirdly delightful things are just under your nose. These things can be unexpected jewels in our lives, uplifting and sustaining.

And don’t forget art. Emotional sustenance and enrichment are certainly to be found in nature, but art can do all that and more.


Foraging the poetics of nature

The exhibition forage: symbiotic (trans)formations takes these concepts and seeks to deepen understanding of our relationship with nature. Curated by Nicole Wallace, the exhibition will be showing at Gallery Lane Cove from September 13 to October 7 2023, and will tour regionally. I’ll be sharing the exhibition space with some very accomplished female artists: Alyson Bell, Katherine Boland, Heather Burness, Katie Harris-MacLeod, Catriona Pollard, Jo Victoria and Liz Williamson.


Foraging the poetics of nature: digital image of plant matter

Poetics of Matter 10, work in progress, digital image


My works, Poetics of Matter and Unwrappings, respond to these themes, in appreciation of the beauty of living things and in acknowledgement of humanity’s impact upon those lives. Poetics of Matter consists of ten jewel-like images randomly climbing the gallery walls – images of squashed, decaying plant matter compressed against window panels of a glasshouse on Awaji Island in Japan. I was struck by the beauty of this scene while leaving the glasshouse; obviously not meant to be seen by visitors, but compelling to me in their abstract formations and softened colours. Decay can be such a beautiful, if transient, thing.


Foraging the poetics of nature: discarded eucalypt bark, moss-dyed silk georgette

Unwrappings, detail, work in progress, moss-dyed silk, eucalyptus bark


Unwrappings combines pieces of thick, discarded eucalypt bark laced with lichen, with softly twisted silk georgette dyed with moss, in two subtle straw-like tones. Representing the discarding of protective layers of both plant and human, the work acknowledges the reliance of human life on the healthy ecosystems of our planet.

The opening event for forage will be from 6-8 pm on Thursday September 14 at Gallery Lane Cove.

How Curiosity Led to the Laughing Rose … and a New Body of Work

Original photograph of Rose, c. 1918


My exhibition Invisible Structures will be showing at Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf from 26 July until 20 August. Woollahra Gallery is a beautifully restored and relatively new space, dedicated to visual arts and culture. This exhibition touches on themes of identity, human relationships, time, existence, and ideas of beauty.

I thought you might like a little insight into how the work evolved.

During lockdown in 2021 I pored over some very old family photograph albums of my late father’s I hadn’t seen before. My brother had kept these while I had kept a lot of Mum’s, and I was interested to see what they held. In these albums I found photographs of my paternal grandmother smiling – and even laughing. This probably won’t seem at all unusual to most people, but I had never, ever, seen my nana express happiness. It was a shock, although a pleasant one. Nana died when I was twelve, after some eight years in a nursing home in a vegetative state after suffering a stroke. We’d visit her every weekend without fail, and my brother and I were alternately fearful or creeped out at the state of her and the entire ward of around eight similarly affected people.


The laughing one….third from left. My grandfather is on her left. Others unknown.


My mother used to tell me stories about how she thought Dad was Nana’s favourite child (she’d had four) as she had always given Mum a particularly hard, sometimes verbally brutal, time. But when I saw her smiling face in those photographs it made me think hard about how we interpret, absorb, reflect on, and form beliefs around hazy memories, colours, smells, family stories and all the other little inputs into our lives. I felt like I owed Nana an apology, for believing she was a difficult, unfriendly individual. But of course, I hadn’t had the opportunity to get to know, or indeed understand, her.

Her name was Rose.

One of her old photographs really struck me. She was sitting on a beach, holding her first born, one of my uncles. She looked so young – exactly like my cousin. Everything seemed to evolve out of that photograph. Responses in paint and textiles followed from there.

I’m drawn to the mystery of the obscured image and what may lie within. Photographic imagery on sheer silk make the picture harder to read – like a secret – getting glimpses, guessing the story. The inclusion of fabrics represents a connection to human beings: combining cloth that reminded me of female relatives, or that emphasised something in the image formally, giving warmth, texture, and dimension to the works.


Naturally, Nana’s namesake – the rose – became important during the evolution of the works. In subtle and not so subtle ways.


This exhibition stems from the fleeting character of the photographic image, blending imprecise recollection with perceived truths. Our response to experiences and stories, and how we recall them, become the structure we build our lives around. The title Invisible Structures refers to these foundational beliefs; the works themselves: the subjective nature of memory.

Aside from my paternal grandmother/Nana/Rose, the exhibition also references my maternal grandmother/Grandma/Ailsa Lavinia. Her influences were considerable, even though Mum’s family lived interstate and we saw them infrequently. I suppose that just illustrates the wonkiness of recall and the power of the conditioning we grow up with.


Original photograph of Lavinia, c. 1908


Lavinia’s references are more of a particular landscape – one I will always associate her with.


The works on show blend the inherent associations of textiles with the intimacy of the body, the ostensible objectivity of the photographic image, found materials, and the expressive gestures of paint, and allude to the reality of human coping mechanisms – what we choose to believe and the inaccuracies we live with. While my particular focus is toward the female lineage within my own family, the exhibition contemplates interpretations of the past, while encouraging viewers to consider their own personal histories, how we establish truth and create meaning, and how these (mis)interpretations might inform our perceptions of, and in, the future.

I hope you can visit the exhibition.

A Process of Idea-Gathering and Organising

Sketchbook page about getting ideas

Sketchbook scrawl on idea-gathering


Idea-gathering and organising: as artists, we have so many ideas floating in and out of our brains, so many feelings and thoughts and troubles and loves, trying to corral them into some kind of workable conduit to make work can be perplexing. Not all of them will find their way into a piece of art, but they need to be organised in some doable, tangible way so they can be utilised to express what we have to get out.

Artists generally use sketchbooks. They help with the whole artistic process, connecting ideas and thoughts, and are even used for Proper Drawings (although not by me). I remember, many years ago when I was an undergraduate student at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW), our lecturer Virginia Coventry drove home how essential it was, describing it as ‘a tool to talk to yourself with’ (or words to that effect).

How right she was. Getting things out of your head is a critical part of creating. I do love to flick through my old sketchbooks every blue moon or so. They remain a potent resource for years. Writers jotting notes on a conversation they’ve overheard, artists making compositional thumbnail sketches or colour observations, musicians recording snippets of a melody, even people who believe they’re not creative faithfully journalling their thoughts – all free the mind to some measure, so that clarity can have a chance.

Personally, I use my sketchbook to plan assembly of work, plan gallery layouts, jot down concepts, and sketch out compositions. I rarely use it to make a ‘proper’ drawing. Generally, things get resolved through the doing bit, which comes after the sketchbook bit. Or vice versa. While that doesn’t sound very helpful, ideas, as you’re no doubt aware, come from everywhere at any time, so precise order is pretty irrelevant.

Of course, new work develops through the practical handling of materials as well as reining in disparate thoughts via The Sketchbook. Indeed, making is a powerful form of thinking in itself. But progression can also come about through participation in the odd workshop. On the weekend I had the pleasure of spending two days at the National Art School manipulating ink and drawing experimentally under the tutelage of Toshiko Oiyama. While I do work this way at times, it’s a pleasure to rediscover alternative ways of seeing, comparing results with a congenial new crowd and dispensing with expectations. Toshiko demonstrated ways we can use all our senses, as well as found materials, to make a drawing, while responding to the unexpected in creative ways.

Opening up to the new in a workshop (as opposed to me teaching one) lets me relax, discover, connect, broaden my practice, and accumulate ideas and ways to apply them. It lets yet another source of disparate ideas into the mix to be absorbed into the work, or filed away for future use. It can eject you from your comfort zone enough to rethink, reassess and allow seemingly unrelated pieces of information in, that just might help solve a creative problem in the studio.






Ring Story: part 2

Ring Story: part 2. Keeping the tradition, a little differently.

New heirlooms!


A quick update on my post from way back in June.

As promised, here are the results of the ring remodelling. My mother’s (white gold) and grandmother’s (yellow gold) rings are now contemporary pieces my daughter and I wear daily. Executed by the talented Bridget Kennedy, we’re so happy to now be using these jewellery pieces in our everyday lives. They’re a daily reminder of their origins and our female lineage, but much more wearable (not least because now they actually fit!).

It’s so nice the rings aren’t still kept in a plastic bag in a drawer, hidden from the world.

Continuing the lives of these meaningful pieces, I like to think of them as brand new contemporary classics. We’re still keeping the tradition, only a little differently.


Ring Story: part 2. Keeping the tradition, a little differently.

The old heirlooms


Now, the stories are extending into the 21st century.


From a wintry hibernation in the studio

Winter has proved to be an interesting time in the studio. I’ve been working on several threads that are all related but quite different in execution, so I thought I’d share some of the processes that are leading to new works.



Continuing my series of photographic work on silk organza, I’m further investigating the possibilities of layering, sheerness and fragility this work offers. I’m loving the somewhat ghostly effects of working in this way, its delicacy and its visual possibilities. The manipulations of both the photographic imagery and the fabric really interest me because the fading and distortion of these material things parallels with that of how our minds remember and interpret information and experience. There is some stretching and stitching still to go with these pieces.




I’m also feeling my way through ideas of fragmentation around thoughts, feelings and memories; the memory of space, the feelings it arouses, and the visual and tactile triggers. Textile collages using digital prints of old family photographs on cloth, house paint and plant dye are working their way into collages that will be stitched in layers. The intention is for these works to hang loose, like a single piece of cloth.

processes toward new work

Before assembling I thought more visual depth would be required for these collages, so I dyed canvas for extra layering. Using onion skin powder and oak galls, and modified with iron water, I got pretty close to the shades I wanted. A buttery, creamy yellow, a rich blue-grey, and a deep olive – all blending with the landscapes depicted in the photographs.

Happy times.



Maybe it’s because I miss painting (and the luscious smell of oil paint), but I’ve also been doing some small oil studies – perhaps to just get it out of my system.

Because sometimes you just need to do things.

These are some of the works in progress. Not sure where these will go, but I’m enjoying the process regardless.



Ring Story: part 1

ring story preservation of beautiful meaningful things

For some time I’ve been making work that looks at memory and treasured objects. The preservation of beautiful, meaningful things isn’t necessarily a sentimental act – it can also be one of strengthening or consolidation.

These engagement, wedding and eternity rings belonged to my late mother and grandmother. The word ‘eternity’ in relation to these precious pieces resonates strongly with me. None of the rings fit me properly (I lost one for a couple of weeks because it slipped off), and I prefer not to have beautiful things hidden away unused or unseen.

ring story preservation of beautiful meaningful things

The main photograph, and the one below, are from a series I made about a decade ago using my grandmother’s jewellery. For these photographs I used her beautiful antique rose gold watch and her rings, as well as some of her embroidered table linens. I suppose it was a way of honouring her, but also an exploration of beauty for its own sake.

ring story preservation of beautiful meaningful things

Now, the rings are about to undergo the ultimate transformation, into another art form, in order to continue matrilineal meaning into another generation.

I’ve been working with an artisan jeweller to remodel these heirloom rings into two contemporary rings for myself and my daughter. The diamonds will be mixed so both rings represent the links between each of us.

I’m excited to see the final results of this project. Keep an eye out for Ring Story: part 2 in a couple of months, where I’ll share the, no doubt unique and striking, outcome.

Water Colours

Water Colours: a few thoughts on Calm

An oceanic mosaic of the Coral Sea in autumn.

Having just returned from a tranquil stretch of time resetting myself in a semi-secluded coastal haven, I’m back to the real world of dealing with the onslaught of the imminent federal election, the war in Europe, and the horrendous implications of climate change inaction – just like everyone else.  Not to mention trying to keep upbeat in the studio again.

While coastally languishing I was treated to the visual spectacle of a fine assortment of ocean colours and textures influenced by the, mostly uppity, weather. It was completely absorbing, and something I’m never bored with.

I think that when your senses are engaged in a calming way you can cope with anything.

If the election, world news, climate calamity, or anything else for that matter, has you reaching for the doona or the bottle, consider taking time out to rebalance yourself with some sensory tonics.

Tonic 1 – Sight

Observe the changing moods of the ocean. Photograph them. Paint them. Sketch them.

Stare at a calming piece of art (even if its in a book). My new screensaver is a photograph I took of a building in Naoshima in 2016 (see below) – and instantly soothes me both physically and mentally.

Water Colours: a few thoughts on Calm

An exhibition space on Naoshima Island.

Tonic 2 – Sound

Park yourself within hearing distance of the ocean. Sit and listen to it. Daydream and think.

Do the same with birdsong, the wind, some particularly moody music.

Tonic 3 – Space

Get yourself out into the open: the mountains, the ocean, a walk in nature, even a pleasing architectural space (a particularly beautiful library or church perhaps?). Or somewhere that’s just your own, personal space.

Daydream. Think of everything and nothing.

Tonic 4 – Time

Give yourself permission to take a designated amount of time for yourself, to do something important (or silly) that you want to do.

Tonic 5 – Touch

Touch, squeeze, hold, stroke something comforting for a few minutes. Walk barefoot on grass or sand. Cuddle an accommodating animal.

Tonic 6 – Smell

Sniff some salt air, natural bushland, a beguiling perfume.


Don’t look for meaning or answers. Just let your mind wander/wonder/imagine for a bit. Sense everything.

Then see what happens when you go back to what you were doing.

Decency, Common Sense, Fairness, Vision

One of my most favourite Australian painters, Clarice Beckett. Just being herself: real.
Passing Trams, c. 1931, oil on board


Words – and stories – have always influenced me as a visual artist. Words are but one of the things that produce images in the mind along with odours, colours and sounds. Images, shapes, ideas start to float around, generating vortexes of possibility. Having attended Adelaide’s Writers’ Week last month, and having reflected further on the topics discussed, it’s clear the strongest themes floating around the ether were Common Decency, Common Sense, Fairness, and Vision.

You might think these topics are rarely discussed with authenticity in the public sphere, and I certainly can’t blame you. Because they aren’t. Political party agendas; fossil fuel, mining and gambling lobbying; to name but a few culprits, have entrenched slippery weasel-word ‘explanations’ for diabolically irresponsible actions (and inactions).

And I think we’ve had enough.

It was so refreshing to hear impassioned, clear, reasoned discussion about the nonsense we’ve accepted from our leaders. And doable steps that, should we choose to take them, will change things for the better. It never seems to be a case of “Great idea – how can we make it happen?”, but “We’re already doing our fair share” or “We’ve already spent blah dollars on this” or “I reject that assumption”, and on and on ad nauseum.

So, if words work for you – and I’m assuming they do as you’re reading this now – following is a rundown of the some of the discussions (and related books) that resonated with me.


Words from the Wise

A discussion with Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty and Barry Jones about the role of science in informing responsible policy to appropriately address the challenges of the future.

Books:            What is to be Done?, Barry Jones

                        An Insider’s Plague Year, Peter Doherty


The Big Switch

Saul Griffith on electrifying (cleanly) everything that needs powering up. With a detailed plan on how to do it. A brilliant, logical and practical discussion.

Book:             The Big Switch, Saul Griffith


Holding the Hose

Interviewed by journalist Kerry O’Brien, Richard Flanagan gave brilliantly gentle, thoughtful and authentic insights into his views on inequality, freedom and the dangers of conformity. And was given a well-deserved standing ovation in return.

Books:            Toxic, Richard Flanagan

                        The Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-Freedom, (essay), Richard Flanagan


Australia’s War on Whistleblowers

Lawyers Bernard Collaery, David McBride and lawyer for Julian Assange Jennifer Robinson discussing justice, transparency, and decency. The punitive punishments doled out to those who buck the system, and thereby embarrass the powerful, is not only disgraceful but applied opaquely and ruthlessly. Insightful and passionate.

Book:             Oil Under Troubled Water: Australia’s Timor Sea Intrigue, Bernard Collaery


Bad Energy

Ian Lowe and Jeremy Moss, in conversation with Natasha Mitchell, explaining the moral questions underlying energy policy, how nuclear energy is not the answer, and highlighting the moral harm done by industrial energy production. Clear, informative and persuasive.

Books:            Carbon Justice, Jeremy Moss

                        Long Half-Life, Ian Lowe


Good International Citizenship: the Case for Decency

Gareth Evans (former foreign minister) talking with Kerry O’Brien about the imperative for good international citizenship, generosity of foreign aid, responses to human rights violations and a call for decency in the way we engage with the world. A fabulous discussion.

Book:             Good International Citizenship: The Case for Decency, (essay), Gareth Evans


Policy Drift

John Daley (CEO of the Grattan Institute) and Martin Parkinson (served in policy development under six prime ministers) in conversation with Paul Barclay about the need for courage, vision and commitment from our nation’s leaders.

Book:             A Decade of Drift, Martin Parkinson


Full Circle: a Search for the World that Comes Next

Scott Ludlam putting the case for a new form of ecological politics in order to handle the challenges all global citizens face.

Book:             Full Circle, Scott Ludlam


Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America

Journalist Alec MacGillis outlined his fascinating investigation of the labour practices of Amazon in the US, and how these practices have eroded communities, some cities, and American life generally. All for the sake of consumer convenience. If you thought the film Nomadland was eye opening…

Book:             Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, Alec MacGillis


Grift, Lies and Influence

Fiona McLeod (Chair of the Accountability Round Table) and Michael West discuss the lack of accountability in public life, and the ways in which community interests have been undermined by some corporations and leaders.

Book:             Easy Lies and Influence, Fiona McLeod


The Reckoning

Journalist and author Jess Hill and Grace Tame (former Australian of the Year) in conversation with Jo Dyer (Director of Adelaide Writers’ Week).

Book:             Quarterly Essay #84: The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing Australia, Jess Hill

                       Look what you Made Me Do, Jess Hill


And I can’t but end with something a bit lighter, but something that equally touched on all those values mentioned at the start of this piece:

Love Stories

Trent Dalton gave the most delightful spiel on how he came to write his latest book. The whole story of how he came to be in possession of The Blue Olivetti Typewriter is, in itself, worth buying the book for. A heart-warming, uplifting testament to what really makes the world go around. And don’t we all need that now?

Book:             Love Stories, Trent Dalton


And something to leave you with:

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.
― George Bernard Shaw

So true George, so true.


Simple, honest, unpretentious observation: William Scott, Frying Pan and Eggs, 1949, oil on canvas

Thoughts on Aesthetics and Influences

Rosalie Gascoigne, painted plywood work in Found and Gathered, National Gallery of Victoria.


Aesthetic values and influences continually occupy my thoughts. My recent viewing of Rosalie Gascoigne’s exhibition (Found and Gathered, with Lorraine Connelly Northey) at Melbourne’s NGV, and comments by a couple of friends that they saw elements of her impact in some of my own work, have prompted the idea to write a little about some of the influences that have run through my practice over the past decade or more.

I’ve always admired Rosalie Gascoigne’s decisive simplicity, her use of old, weathered, found materials, and the graphic nature of her work (afforded by that very simplicity). With her background in Ikebana artistry it’s not surprising her eye was sharp while sensitive to the progressions of nature and time. Her aesthetic embraces that of Japanese wabi sabi but with a convincingly Australian edge.

Abstract shapes evoke imaginative associations, memories. They let the mind wander, offer permission to freely interpret meaning.

On that line of thought, other Japanese influences on my practice include Hiroshi Sugimoto and Ishiuchi Miyako. There is a stillness and poignancy to their work that stands powerfully and compellingly amid the fractious attention-diverting reality of contemporary life.


Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1993


Hiroshi Sugimoto, Pine Trees, 2001.

Sugimoto’s ocean and pine tree series’ (that I was lucky enough to see in person on a visit to Naoshima in 2016) are beautifully realised ruminations on time, endurance and connection between generations. Their simplicity allows for a quietness, permits something else to speak, be known, understood. His underlying understandings of time are a continual stimulus for me, and something I constantly strive to interpret in my own way through my practice.


Ishiuchi Miyako, Mother’s #49


Ishiuchi Miyako, Hiroshima #9 (Ogawa Ritsu), 2007.

Miyako’s photographs of her late mother’s clothing, and those of Hiroshima bombing victims, are intimate tributes to lives that might otherwise be regarded as just another elapsed life, or perhaps a nameless statistic.  Carefully arranged old things that show evidence of use – whether wrinkling, patina, fading, cracking – indicate value, care for something, and meaning generated by that care. Her work honours the value of objects that could be considered merely mundane or utilitarian, and for this reason has had a profound impact on my thinking.


Minnie Stewart, 1920s.

To make meaning out of something is a natural human impulse and, no less, a valuable and worthy pursuit. This brings me to another example of endurance, value and frank ingenuity. I first saw this photograph of a quilt made with woollen serge tailor’s samples in Jennifer Isaacs 1987 book The Gentle Arts. I was captivated. So much care had been taken to design and construct this functional piece of art (in this case by Minnie Stewart from NSW in the 1920s). Pieces such as these were often filled with flattened, worn woollen clothing: a sort of Japanese boro, Australian style. No doubt this quilt has been treasured for generations.


Hand woven bed cover by Fiona Pryor, early 1980s.


Bed cover, detail.

Pictured above is one of my own heirlooms, made by my late mother, when she was going through her weaving phase. She had a small loom and used it to weave panels in differing patterns, joining them together to make a bedcover for me. It must be almost forty years old now, and still a beautiful thing, used every spring/summer/autumn, and is the perfect weight for our climate. While it has been repaired multiple times, mucked up by a dry cleaner who refused to compensate for the damage, soaked, and been in constant use since it was made, it is full of its own stories and is something I’d never part with.


Life in itself has no meaning. Life is an opportunity to create meaning.

                                        Osho, Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within

Hope N’ Roses

red and cream roses


Does anyone else feel like this? Caught between an optimism for a new year, a newish start after two Covid-riddled years and generally being just plain tired of negativity, and a realisation the 21st century is shaping up to be one of enormous upheaval in world affairs and possibly in the way we live as a culture (let alone as a species)? It seems to be getting harder to maintain a timely knowledge of world affairs while not losing a sense of hope for the future.

At least I know Rebecca Solnit has grasped this. The American writer and researcher, with a seemingly unending curiosity about everything, recently published a book titled Orwell’s Roses. It only came to my attention last week after reading an article on Radio National: How George Orwell’s love of roses can help you lead a happier life.

My groaning bedside table

I’ll leave it to you to read up on the details, and I haven’t read the book myself yet (I mean, just look at what’s waiting on my bedside table at any one time), but essentially it talks about how Orwell balanced the gravity of his work with the ostensibly incongruous practice of gardening: vegetables and roses (while also investigating the similar acts of others).

Her theory maintains that far from being a dour, pessimistic individual, Orwell’s enjoyment of rose husbandry actually got him through the ghastliness of his subject matter. He used it as a way of steadying himself, refilling his cup if you will, so he could complete the work he believed in.

In a quote from the interview Rebecca Solnit is Not Giving Up Hope in The Nation, Solnit points out:

I learned a lot from writing the book. I didn’t understand—few of us do—what “bread and roses” really means, and that has been such a wonderful piece of equipment for my thinking and arguing.

We all know what “bread” is: food, clothing, shelter, the bodily necessities, which can be more or less homogenized and administered from above. But “roses” was this radical cry, in a way, for individualism, for private life, for freedom of choice—because my roses and your roses won’t be the same roses, you know? It’s saying that people are subtle, complex, subjective creatures who need culture, need nature, need beauty, need leisure.

This is not something the left has always been good at defending or even recognizing. We’re also in a really difficult time, and it’s not going to stop being difficult for the foreseeable future, with the climate chaos and the new authoritarianism, etc. We all have a lot of work to do.

The bit that really stands out for me from this passage is:

…“roses” was this radical cry, in a way, for individualism, for private life, for freedom of choice—because my roses and your roses won’t be the same roses, you know? It’s saying that people are subtle, complex, subjective creatures who need culture, need nature, need beauty, need leisure.

This just screams to me that art has more relevance in our lives than ever. To escape into. To hide in. To think about. To question. To unravel. To obtain perspective. To marvel at. To lose ourselves.

While I can’t claim to be much of a gardener I do love being in the bush and in beautiful, wild gardens. Finding respite in an absorbing book, a peaceful walk, filling my head with the works of an amazing artist, getting sucked into my own work, special times with loved ones, cooking something new, exploring new ideas – these are things that keep hope alive, make life worth living.

Just as Orwell maintained hope, worldly things to brighten us up when we need them are there for the finding. We are creative, intelligent, adaptable beings. And these imaginative, beautiful, inquisitive acts are our forms of resistance. Indeed, smelling the roses has never been more essential.

Dying rose

This beautifully melancholic image of a dead rose was taken by the late Lawrence Carroll, an exquisite painter and feeler of everything. Source: