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The Garden

Some small hope, far away when national imaginaries were composed of garden centres, golf-courses, sewage works, car parks, underpasses and airports, an epic struggle took place between The Garden, and the bare-breeched brethren of the Rossie-Crosse, those reptilian supporters of The Academy and The Lyceum. In England, during the period March 21st 1975 AD, a thriving and cultured garden community was established just outside the walls of London at Coombe in Cornwall. Peter Blake, Graham and Ann Arnold, Annie and Graham Ovenden and David Inshaw found a garden wherein they were set free from managed modern transitions and the staged internationalism of the Napoleonic Empire by the truth of the Cor Anglais and the poems of Wordsworth, Milton and Thomas Hardy. “Peter Blake has suggested that they were artists who chose, quite deliberately, to go and work as artists in the country (as opposed to the city), an environment no less real for the artist than the city, throughout twentieth-century urban snobbishness tends to think differently.”[1] Withdrawing from the state into a sheltered Atlantis of like-minded people ruled by friendship, they hailed Epicurus, Elgar and the Reggie Perrin Commune. The Brotherhood of Ruralists became increasingly absorbed by the mythical aspects of the countryside, showing a great deal of interest in an archaeology of foliage, fairytales, folklore, legend, naming rituals and the labyrinths of 19th century British art. Raised in summer days of splendour, a number of Arcadian and faerie paintings followed, uniting William Blake with Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite fantasies. Despite his change from flat cryla paint to oil, Blake’s distinctively sensual pop style remained evident, albeit in a style that aped the piety, virtue and infant joy of early-Netherlandish painting. Work-in-progress Titania, was painted as a sexually aware adult, complete with pubic hair and a distinctly seventies perm. The result was an uncomfortable contradiction between fantasy and verity, a magical realism of grottoes, gothic cottages, the crosses of old grey churches, Hermits, Orpheus and children’s games. The Brotherhood of Ruralists had no manifesto, no promotional strategy, and held no bureaucratic positions, and therefore made little impact on the institutionalised British artworld. Flowing with milk and honey and safeguarded by their recondite Englishness, the Ruralists resisted being bewitched and imprisoned by dystopian urbanists in their steel palaces where they would have been forced to shake their Fascist Groove Thing for all eternity. Blake remained the leader of The Garden until the turn of the eighties when the modern-day Ophelia and former leader of The Ravishing Beauties Virginia Astley’s comely alienated euphony succeeded him. “For every locomotive they build,” Astley once said, “I shall sample another church bell.” The Green Book, sowed these seeds back in the soil as far afield as Glasgow, a dear green place where foppery flourished in the early eighties.[2]
After many years of reassuringly dull Sundays, the garden in which quene Astley felt secure was again thrust into turmoil. The municipal Archfiend and his demons were real and able to perform certain kinds of miracles and spatial metaphors by performing an attack on totalising theoretical endeavours. ‘Foliage is power’, was their motto. According to Hollinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande (1577), the ensuing struggle for halcyon power over between Astley’s sons, erstwhile concrete fetishist new wavers turned agrarian ethno-historicists David Sylvian and John Foxx had led to a state of civil war. Moss covered urns were toppled by cascading floods of whispering rococo vine. The homely irregular doors of informal cottage gardens were decayed as discursive terms with mock deconstructive terror. While amorphous in all but its central components, Astley’s initiative to halt the spread of Anglo Platonism and Scots Aristotelianism ceded de facto control over much of mainland Britain to Sylvian and Foxx. Although it would nominally preserve Arcadian sovereignty under a greatly weakened and yet to be defined ruralist authority, the plan would effectively partition The Garden approximately into halves controlled by a Sylvian/pro-urban fox hunting on mountain bikes wing in Westminster and a Foxxian-Beechgrove Garden coalition of willing at Holyrood committed to a way of life directed at worldly happiness. The Sylvianian alchemical index of possibilities promoted peaceful wars, the smoking of hash pipe, a remarkable abundance of brilliant trees, replacing glacial ambiences with a bright temperate dog day’s air, leading life back to the soil and the poems of Wilfred Owen. The Foxxian system of romance favoured the poems of Ivor Cutler, scrapping weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, travel by horse and carriage, communally renewable energy and a damp climate. Both were united in shaping self-conscious mythologies embedded in nostalgic rituals of ecclesiastical architecture, acoustic arrangements, Gregorian chanting, ambient posturing in white linen suits, sweeping vocal chords, drinking the blood of poets, and neo-expressionist LP sleeve design.
Ignorant of a romantic narcissism in which the pastoral is valorised, concepts of uninuclear and polynuclear conurban continuums continued to ignore the existence of village-type communities within large cities. The Scottish Green Party, winning six knighthoods from Foxx, noted with melancholic reflection that “wir naitral environs is the foonds that ilka commonweel is biggit wi. Whaniver we skaithe the warld aboot us we skaithe wirsels. Akis o thon, taen tent o the warld aboot us is mair nor necessar.”[3] Preferring to follow these diktats than remain under the Norwegian yoke, Lee O’Connor fled with grace in a stolen white van along the Edenic banks of Loch Sunart in desperation to convert the lions of the urban central belt. Once in the capital, O’Connor dreamt of a virtuous commonweel in his kailyard.[4] His Strontian Dream (2002) was of the otherworldliness of his West Highland hometown Strontian (Gaelic for ‘Nose of the Fairies’), wistful, gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, a truth inspired by cheap whisky. He slurred songs of a culture that most Scots no longer understood. As he breakdanced in New Town gentleman’s clubs yelling ‘I am the man from Scottish steel the rigger boots of the oil jobbers embrace the garment too’, he re-enacted Alexander Carse’s dramatic opposition between courtly sophistication and rustic innocence The Visit of the Country Relations (1812). To the vital centre, the naturalism of O’Connor’s New Labour-free paradise, his total rejection of active supernatural powers was anathema. After the Scottish Labour-Whig usurpers formed court in May 2003, he was caricatured as an embodiment of Antichrist for his belief in decadence outlined in his Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603). He retained a tenuous existence in a tree house growing in the fruitful’st soil of Edinburgh’s Dean Village where he abided faythfilll to the cause and grew accustomed to daintie food and soft beds of down.
The Labour-Whig pretenders could not seale their commission. The True Kynge and all his Counsell granted to them anone. And he held himselfe an Assemble at Yorke, gave charges, and taught manners, and commanded that rule to be kept ever after, and tooke then the chartour and commission to keepe, and made ordinance that it should be renewed from kynge to kynge. Living unnoticed, regulated by the seasons, the True Kynge pampered his belly, pausing in hiatus opposite a chewing gum wrapper mask, shrouded in Neil Bickerton’s dusky subterranean installation ‘WE WIN’ (2002). Have you ever been in a chewing gum castle before? It’s kind of a secret, but I know you won’t tell. Medieval fortifications and teeth can be symbols of power, security and protection, as when the animals discover them in defence. As chemical records of our primitive years, teeth are also ciphers of archaeology. Gum is desire given flesh (kidnappers in Borneo once abducted a diplomat for a ransom of Double Bubble). Gum is a mind free from disturbance and a body free from pain, to chew it is to coax a living from the soil. To smell it is to know the luscious smell of delicious land. Reminiscent of Les Levine’s gold gum sculptures, Bickerton’s tiny chewing gum castle had a saliva moat, and battlements menacing high fantasy, but don’t worry – the only thing that he keeps there are rotten teeth. As long as you brush your teeth and chew the chewing gum with studied nonchalance, not even your teeth will ever see the toothsome battlements of Bickerton. However, the more you attempt to remove this gum from your mouth the larger and more unmanageable it will become. In all, Bickerton’s naturalised epistemology left his people hungry, vulnerable, frustrated and panicky because the harder they tried to pull against false seers, the larger the mass of interruption became.
The messianic thoughts of The Lonely Piper ruptured this country of the mind, turning total corporeal war of the State into his own psychological war. Our curiosity is interested to know who and what this man really was, and perhaps all the more so, that our poetical conception of him is so different from the reality. Sometimes in fear of becoming a burden to his clan he would set out on a quest or journey through life collecting experiences and skills that he could share and therefore regain a place of standing with his people. On return from viewing the Monarch of the Glen (1965-68) in Peter Blake’s fifedom, he gushed a montage of aphorisms; standing in awe of sylvan views, affected by fragments and hidden treasures. An empirical record of the powers of the mountain that reign at their strongest during the night and particularly in the winter months, the Mountain Hairs that Turn White in Winter (2002) potentially recover memory from within the ancestral well. Some of this knowledge, understanding and wisdom gathered over the centuries can be found within this dark space, hopefully like our ancestors we will emerge out of the prefabricated darkness into the perfect pollenated light a little more aware.

[1] NICHOLAS USHERWOOD, “The Brotherhood of Ruralists 1975-1980”, The Brotherhood of Ruralists, Lund Humphries, London, 1981, p50.
[2] The Green Book, Issue 5, Spring/Summer 1981 had a powerful impact upon the work of the New Glasgow Boys.
[3] Scottish Green Party, The Thochts o the Scots Green Pairtie, Election Manifesto 2003.
[4] See Craig, Cairns. “Myths Against History: Tartanry and Kailyard in Nineteenth-century Scottish Literature”, in Colin McArthur (ed.) Scotch Reels. London: BFI publishing, 1982.

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