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Genius Loci

I have been engaged in my artist residency for almost 6 months now. I have filled 3 sketchbooks and made 45 en plein air paintings. A series of 5 triptychs based on my drawings, and completed a series of 30x30cm and 10x10cm Linocuts.

I have always been prolific in my art practice. Anyone who has been trained in the textile department of a British art college knows how to work productively. We were taught to produce abundantly with a view to entering an industry which demands new collections at a rapid rate with aesthetic inventiveness.

I have found The Acres endlessly visually interesting. Each week there is somewhere else and something else to inspire me. However, the spirit of The Acres was my initial motivation for my residency. I felt an immediate connection to the farm. It is certainly visually attractive but there is a tangible ambience and I wanted to explore that discernible spirit, the sense of place.

This particular essence of a place is known as a genius loci and has come to us from the Romans and ancient Greeks. The genius loci of a place is defined by the Webster's Dictionary as

: the pervading spirit of a place

: a tutelary deity of a place

The Collins dictionary as:

the guardian spirit of a place or the special atmosphere of a particular place

The Oxford Reference states that genius loci is a “ Latin term meaning ‘the genius of the place’, referring to the presiding deity or spirit. Every place has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived, so it ought to be (but far too often is not) the responsibility of the architect or landscape designer to be sensitive to those unique qualities, to enhance them rather than to destroy them.”

In classical Roman religion, a genius loci was the protective spirit of a place. It was often depicted in religious iconography as a figure holding attributes such as a cornucopia, patera, or snake. Many Roman altars found throughout the Western Roman Empire were dedicated to a particular genius loci.

Australia is an ancient land with the oldest continuous culture in the world. As an immigrant, I have always steered clear of referencing indigenous culture in my work through a respect for the sacred and arcane. The sense of endless time and cultural narrative can often be perceived here.

By making observational drawings and paintings I have acquainted myself with the space and place of The Acres. By engaging in observing and recording the artist absorbs the whispers of genius loci through a gentle assimilation. I felt something special the first time I visited The Acres and a primary driver of my residency was to endeavour to capture that spirit/ambience in a visual form. During my time at The Acres, I have had a growing awareness of the sense of place.

Death of the Author by Roland Barthes discusses the idea that writing no longer belongs to the creator once it has been sent out into the world. The reader applies their own experiences to the work. The same can be said of the artwork. While I have been engaged in drawing the flowers and the landscape specific memories have manifested of people and places far from here. This was unexpected but has provided me with an enriched connection to the place.

My parents were both keen gardeners and would have delighted in The Acres. They had both been raised in small terrace inner city housing and loved their suburban garden. My Mum arranged flowers at Chapel and the local hospital. My Dad would grow supplementary flowers for the Chapel arrangements. My Mum and her friends arranged the flowers for my wedding, a flower stylist was never considered.

Flowers which have grown at The Acres during the past 6 months have sparked excitement and joy in me. I have been giddy at times when a particular flower appeared in a newly emerged row. I have loved learning about the crops from Debbie, from soil prep to planting, harvesting and life cycles. My personal connection to certain plants has provided extra layers of kinship.

Delphiniums remind me of my Dad. He would grow them every summer along one side of his modest greenhouse. They were tall and a rich dark blue. He would plant nasturtiums every year and I remember him harvesting the seeds to plant the following season. He would pick a small bunch of them for the breakfast table, placing them in a tiny hand-painted glass. I planted them at the first house I lived in in Bermuda after I got married. I was bereft when the landlady’s gardeners pulled them up as weeds. My Mum loved the scent of stocks and had zinnias in the garden and she used hardy staticce in her arrangements for some winter colour.

Every time we would visit my Grandma my Mum would buy a bunch of anemones from the market in my home town of Darlington, as they were her favourite. My Grandad would always have Alyssum in his annual border, planted alternately with lobelia. He took particular delight in his retirement garden in the Eden Valley as he had spent a large part of his life in the industrial gloom of wartime Newcastle upon Tyne. The QAL reminds me of hedge parsley from childhood walks in the English countryside. It was a signifier of summer. The dahlias remind me of my Dad and a trip to New Delhi where my friend’s mum had row upon row of potted dahlias in their Lutyens garden.

As I reach the halfway point of my artist’s residency I see that my narratives are an important part of my experience. I have more than exceeded my expectations. I keenly felt that my time at The Acres would be beneficial to my practice but I had no idea it would be such an enriching time visually and personally.

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