An interview with British outsider artist, and gardener, Ian Pyper. Interviewed by BardintheGarden.
My first response to Ian’s ‘Atom Garden’ series was I felt he’d so simply and elegantly evoked the universe. I felt he’d mixed E=mc2 directly into the paint to give the true glowing effects of the interrelation of the atoms in our gardens. His illustrations give voice to the hum of existence—the buzzing light reflecting from things as if it were they themselves that actually glowed. Taking a walk through the sensory landscape of Pyper’s work may very well give you new eyes to see your own garden, when it eventually springs from the frozen soil a few months from now and starts the visible work of throwing out leaves, fruiting and flowering.
BardintheGarden: How long have you made art? And do you consider yourself an Outsider artist?
IanPyper: I’ve drawn ever since I can remember and it’s an activity I can’t really imagine ever giving up. My parents became quite concerned at one point about the sheer volume of drawings I did (all now destroyed!).
I somehow fell into the whole ‘outsider’ art through having an article written about me and my art in Raw Vision Magazine in 1998, but I’m not sure how to describe my art—I don’t really fit in with the traditional ‘outsider’ tag and yet I don’t seem to fit in anywhere else either! My drawings are obsessive and often repetitive, but they come from a different place than most other outsider-ish art.
Being from a school that taught mainly science subjects and almost no art, I seem to look at things from a more scientific approach, particularly in the more recent work, which has a big departure for me.
BG: How long have you gardened? Is there a type of plants you like to grow?
IP: I first got the gardening bug when I was about 11 and I grew some Spider Plant offshoots that I’d brought home from a Biology lab in school and then a friend gave me some Cactii from his dad’s greenhouse and I started to grow houseplants at that point. I was always around gardens as both my parents and grandparents had gardens and I usually did jobs in them. My dad grew prize winning Dahlias and Roses in regimented lines with bare soil all around them and my mum’s pride and joy was a rockery with Heathers of various hues.
I didn’t have a proper garden until I moved to this house in Brighton (it had just been either living in an apartment, or just a few plants on a tiny patio up until then) and it was the first time I’d had the chance to grow a wide selection of plants for myself.
I have a love of exotic tropical-looking plants (probably because I love large-leaved houseplants so much!) and I’ve experimented with quite a few and through trial and error I’ve had some successes and also several failures, but I now know what will grow and what is a waste of time even trying.
BG: What do you see in exotics that influences you more than native plants?
IP: The whole idea of my love for exotic plants stems mainly from my childhood Sunday afternoon visits to the Palm House in Sefton Park in Liverpool with my parents. It was like entering another world, and for someone who lived in inner city Liverpool, it was a huge contrast to my everyday life. Huge palms and Banana plants that had been brought back from far-flung parts of the world by explorers and botanists that sailed from the port of Liverpool. I can still remember the spiral staircase at the centre of the Palm House and being a small boy of about 8 or 9, I would look down from above the canopy of leaves into the humid ‘jungle’ below.
Also, there’s something appealing about big leaved plants and the feeling that you can get lost in the foliage and almost become a part of that environment.
BG: What about your gardening inspires your art? And what about your art inspires your gardening?
IP: Gardening is all about form, shape and colour and also organisation of space. In gardening, it’s the juxtaposition of plants for texture, shape, colour and size that makes a garden interesting and this is very similar to creating art. I can get lost in myself and in creative thinking in the garden, and this happens when I’m drawing too.
BG: How does the growth of a plant compare to the creation of art for you?
IP: I think that the miracle of seeds germinating and growing is very much like the beginning of an idea in my art, although it’s often easier to know what a full grown, mature plant will look like, whereas the growth of ideas can go off at the most unexpected tangents!
BG: What about the mysteries of plant processes and plant life make them a good subject for art?
IP: Plant processes and the energy that emanates from plants and trees is sometimes overlooked and not always fully appreciated, but plants create the atmosphere and shape the climate in which everything lives and grows. Plant’s invisible exchange of gases and their life cycles enrich the earth and enable the whole web of life to continue.
Plants are a wonderful subject for art as there is so much texture, pattern and colour in their leaves and flowers and their contrast with their environment creates images that are immediately appealing to the human eye. We must have a psychological predisposition for the growth and nurture of plants, which is probably why so many people find gardening and growing plants therapeutic and it’s no doubt also a way of us keeping our connection to the whole of nature that we’re a part of.
IP: The ‘Atom’ series of drawings was and is very special for me – I was somehow trying to create drawings that visualized the vibrancy of living things (particularly the things I see every day from my window in the garden) and acknowledging that life starts at the atomic and molecular level and that vibrancy goes through every stage of the living process – an attempt to portray the idea of ‘everything is one’ and in total interconnectedness and balanced harmony.
BG: Are there any specific gardens other than your own that have influenced your work?
IP: Without a doubt, my favourite garden must be that of Will Giles in Norfolk on the east coast of the UK – www.exoticgarden.com. Giles is an illustrator who had a vision to create a garden from tropical plants that don’t normally grow in the UK and his garden surpasses anything I could ever imagine achieving in my humble plot.
BG: How do you feel about closing the garden for the year? What do you look forward to once it is put away?
IP: At first, ‘putting the garden to sleep’ seems a bit sad, but then I remember that through the cold Winter months, the plants are engaged in tremendous activity beneath the soil, so what looks like a dead garden, is in fact a garden just biding its time and waiting to be reborn again in Spring!
Without a doubt, I look forward to Spring as my favourite time for the garden—new hope and bright green growth and seedlings popping up in the most unexpected places!
Tags: garden art