There’s one birch tree that’s coming through the centre of the building and it’s been called the tree of life. It’s a big tree, a powerful statement, in fact this huge curving window was designed for the tree – and when you enter Maggie’s the first thing you see is the window and this magnificent tree, the branches of the tree beckoning – so there is an instant connection to nature, an amazing movement, a dynamic and its own personality within this tree; and people have naturally personified this tree as a giver of life within the centre – it wasn’t intentional, but I believe it’s an instinctive want to be connected.
There are birds there, they go wild for the snowberries in the garden and it feels like the Pennine woodlands – there’s a place to sit on a rock, to touch the trees, the bark, there’s a natural water feature – the water comes from the roof and collects into the basin; we’ve recreated the natural world, positive ions come from falling water, that takes out the electricity, and water has that sour-sweet smell, that freshness which is life, and where you have water there is life.
I go back springtime and autumn, see the growth, the rhythm and dance of the trees, how they go on and make plans for the rest of the year… the garden grows on, and I with it. The garden is now just two years old, and dauntingly, the garden will last way longer than I’ll ever be around… I think about that … you’re leaving something behind, you live on…
My own painting practice has deepened with all this experience. Now I paint very large, often-abstracted translations of view, landscape and water. I don’t set out to paint abstracts but often that’s what naturally happens.It’s an essence of what it is, a state of being… perhaps because it reflects my own inner state of being.
You hone it down and down, and in fact you might not know what you’re going to paint, you might go to bed, to sleep, get up and then start to paint and it will come…
Landscape and nature increasingly inspire me: the colours in the sky, especially in winter, low light, the big skies, the incredible reflection of the water and water is so dimensional, the reflection, the movement, pond weed, the fish, the rocks, the ripples go one way, the stream goes another – landscape has so many layers, is multi-responsive…
The title landscape designer and painter are completely entwined for me now, one informs the other and actually of all the platforms available to artists Instagram is excellent for revealing that: it’s your vision – who you are, on one level quite banal, but on another adds up to the greater picture and helps negotiate the mosaics of your life, your creative life, and make up the full picture; even down to the ebb and flow of your creative life, working with the seasons, planting projects.
Maggie’s took one of my water and tree paintings; it’s in their therapy room, next to the window through which you can see the birch trees we planted. When the light shines you can see the flecks of the birch leaves on the painting, it’s almost a pointillism effect. It’s rather beautiful, inspiring, everything feels like it has life.
They said at Maggie’s after my working there, they had the hand of the gardener, hand of the artist. I like that.”
The Royal Oldham Hospital
As told to Sophie Lévy Burton
May 2019 MONK