Art and the Landscape Designer

10 March 2017

Hazy mountains and country lanes, hot air balloon shadows over deserted beaches, and a sense of distance from but also a place in the landscape, the work of Michael Andrews seems crafted especially for the landscape designer.  A recent trip to the current exhibition of his work at Gagosian Gallery in Mayfair brought this home to us with a scale and confidence typical of the artist. Andrews’s work hums with natural imagery and reference, this retrospective confirms that, and even the way the paintings played off the trees in the street outside seemed curated.  It got us thinking about the dream-like quality of vast open spaces – the beaches of North Norfolk, the Australian Outback – but also the minute details of much loved and visited places.  Each work summons an atmosphere of specificity to place, something which is at the heart of what it is to design gardens and landscapes.

As well as playing an abstract creative role, specific pieces can also be more immediately inspiring when a garden is designed around a work, acting as natural plinth to heighten the impact of the piece.  This was the brief for a recently completed project in London. The garden became the installation, along with the piece (in this case a large lateral sculpture) and planting beds treated as discreet works within a wider whole. The beds are replanted twice a year to exaggerate the sense of flux in the space and the solidity of the sculpture. 

Leaning on art as inspiration is nothing new in design, but the parallels can feel more elastic when that design involves elements so far beyond our control: in other words, nature. More contemporary work, that deals with decay and growth in a material way perhaps feels more obviously linked.  But there’s just as much substance to be taken from a Dutch vanitas painting as from Anselm Kiefer’s uprooted trees presented like botanical specimens in glass cases.  Designers like the great Mien Ruys drew strongly from the De Stilj and Bauhaus movements, which surrounded her and of which she was a part.  It is clear in the strong geometry of her designs, and in the shift in approach to European landscape design that her work created. Other designers display less singular allegiances but the references are still there, albeit woven in a less obvious way.  Design and creativity in any medium requires a constant momentum of inspiration and thought, in landscape design we have the ever-changing natural world to reference.  But works of art from throughout the ages are also a vital, seemingly endless and ever replenishing resource.

- Elizabeth Tyler


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