Monday, April 20, 2009

Surrealism In The Outdoors

Photos 1 and 3 by Lucy Nieto

I suppose that we all titivate our gardens - some more than others. While watching the ABC series, Around The World In 80 Gardens I saw this garden and it really got me thinking - about art and immortality, art and money, art and power, art and the notion of beauty, art and labels. All this thinking of course just gave me a headache and the realisation that if art mirrors life, then the politics of it will do likewise - whether we agree with it or not - and we each just have to do what is right for us.

The British multimillionaire Edward James made his name between 1920 and 1930, as a surrealist poet and collector or surrealist art - he was a patron of De Chirico, Magritte and Dalí - he collaborated with Dali to produce the Lobster Telephone and the iconic, red-satin Mae West Lips Sofa. But it’s through his own surrealist art work, the gardens of Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico that his name lives on.

In 1948, after spending most of the Second World War in Los Angeles, James went to Mexico with a friend to look for a site to house his growing orchid collection. The travellers came across the pools of Las Pozas, and James's friend immediately stripped off for a swim.

As he sunned himself afterwards on a rocky outcrop, a cloud of smoky-mauve butterflies appeared suddenly and covered his entire body. James took this as a sign and purchased the land. Over the next 20 years, he paid annual visits to Las Pozas, constantly adding new orchids: by 1965, he had 18,000 plants. But a freak three-day snowstorm killed the whole collection.

So James began instead to cultivate giant plants made of concrete - to say nothing of towers, obelisks, pavilions, bridges and spiral staircases. Hidden within the rainforest is a surreal concrete jungle - enormous man-made trees, bamboos and flowers –that range in height from 1.2m (4ft) to 9m (30ft), designed by James and built by Xilitla men. James was also wild about animals of all sorts, travelling the world with snakes in his luggage, and many of the garden pavilions were designed to hold an aviary or a menagerie.

A poem written by Edward James, prior to his death in 1974 -

I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen;

therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room,

surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom

of trees my only gloom - and the sound, the sound of green.

Here amid the warmth of the rain, what might have been

is resolved into the tenderness of a tall doom

who says: 'You did your best, rest - and after you the bloom

of what you loved and planted still will whisper what you mean.

And the ghosts of the birds I loved, will attend me each a friend;

like them shall I have flown beyond the realm of words.

You, through the trees, shall hear them, long after the end

calling me beyond the river. For the cries of birds

continue, as - defended by the coretege of their wings -

my soul among strange silences yet sings.

Read more about the interesting background and life of Edward James here.

I find the Las Pozas gardens fascinating, and would love to visit them, to see them up close, to photograph them. Another that I'd love to visit is the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, in the UK. The beautiful contemporary piece Mudmaid is installed there.

Photo from JohnnyH

Definitions of any kind can be limiting, and confusing. There's a simplistic easy to understand definition of ‘surrealism’ here and a not so easy but interesting one - an Andre Breton lecture - here.

These days, besides having to use 'tags' on internet selling sites, there doesn't seem to be as much emphasis on labelling an artist's work. Maybe like fashion some terms are 'in' at a particular time. There's plenty of art on Etsy that fits into the surrealist definition but is tagged fantasy, steampunk, neo gothic, neo victorian, strange, dark, edwardian, noir, dada, whimsical, fairy tale.

And I've learned something big by checking out these tags - you can put more than one word in a tag space and each individual word will show up in a search! I had no idea!
Below are a few 'surrealism in the outdoors' artworks from the ever inspiring artists of Etsy.

Groundhog Hair Print by Amber Alexander

Not All Good Journeys Are Bad Print by Bryan Collins

Beginnings Print by David V Moore

Black Rose Cameo Brooch by Lush Punk

The Night Belongs to Them Print By Jaime Best of Best Art Studios

Eggplant With Chicken Legs Sculpture by Melissa Sue


ArtSparker said...

Just in case you don;t know about her, here's another destination

The Clever Pup said...

Funny, I thought niki de saint phalle with the very first picture.

I used the mudmaid at Heligan to illustrate my Earth Theme post about 5 days ago.

Splendid Little Stars said...

another fantastic post! Last week I was in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. I was fortunate to go to the Desert Botanical Garden. The plants themselves are surreal. There was also a huge Chihuly exhibit. How amazing would it be to travel to some of the world's spectacular gardens!

ArtSnark said...

What a wonderful (& eclectic) collection! How fun

Tumble Fish Studio said...

A wonderful and fascinating post! I truly enjoyed every drop!

Hey Harriet said...

I was just reading a post about Edward James and Xilitla by a blogger from Mexico the other day! I love the 'Eggplant with chicken legs' Super post!

Judy said...

Great post - informative and very true about all those tags.

BaldyLocks said...

This was such an interesting blog post. Now I'm dreaming about concrete in the jungle.

J Santa Fe said...

A spectacular garden is the ultimate luxury.
I long for little in life .. . but, a small house in a grand garden is on the top of my very short list.

Thanks for another great post .... .


The Stapelia Company said...

Wow. These are some really neat gardens. Especially that one where the woman is laying down. Sigh. If only I had a yard. ;)

Tinniegirl said...

Your posts are always so fascinating and informative. That forest is so amazing. I would love to visit it too.

Snowbrush said...

You have a gift for beauty. It is not a small thing, and it is not a common thing, and I am glad I have found you.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Delighted to meet you. I have enjoyed this visit very much and will visit again. Thank you for your kind words.

Snowbrush said...

I just coming back to see it all again.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

I've returned to view James garden again. I've always wanted to visit it. Isn't it spectacular? I wanted to go last time I was in Mexico but they were having some kind of trouble on the mountain roads. Someday!

Anonymous said...

what a lush place of rich imagination is the la Poza gardens. Never knew about them, but it may be on the bucket list...

Anonymous said...


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Williamskdwv said...

Delighted to meet you. I have enjoyed this visit very much and will visit again. Thank you for your kind words. Catherine