I designed and made this shrine for a commission from Durk Dehner, President of the Tom of Finland Foundation. Durk wanted a permanent shrine in the garden of the Foundation to commemorate Carrington Galen (Carr), who remade the garden and was a part of the Tom of Finland Foundation family. Carrington died in the garden in 2016.
The shrine is a contemporary interpretation of a classical monument to a hero with vibrant colours that reference those in Carrington’s own paintings and Southern California.
On the base of the shrine is his name, the years of his birth and death and the words EACH OF US FINDS OUR OWN WAY, taken from one of Carrington’s paintings. The lettering was inscribed by artist John Parot, who collaborated on the work with me. The steps forming the base are designed to hold votive objects like candles and memorial stones. Above this is a blue truncated pyramid, conceived as a temple for Carr as the deity of the Pleasure Park (the name of the garden at the Foundation).
The figure crowning the pyramid is the work of Stuart Sandford, another former artist-in-residence at the Foundation. 3D printing technology was used to model a figure from two photographs of Carr, one of them taken in the garden. Behind the figure is a disc in orange, yellow and red. This was inspired by a clock motif that features in two of Carr’s paintings. It also represents a setting or rising sun.
After I had made the sun disc, Durk told me that on the day of his passing, Carr fell asleep as the sun set, in the garden he had made where the monument now stands. A portion of Carr’s ashes are encased in the top of the pyramid, underneath the figure.
The ceramic components of the shrine were fired by LA ceramic artist Ben Medansky. Joe Candeis Galen and Roberto Tzalem installed the shrine in situ.
‘There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.’
‘Hay un momento en la vida en el que esperas que el mundo esté siempre lleno de cosas nuevas. Y entonces llega un día en que te das cuenta de que no será así en absoluto. Ves que la vida se convertirá en una cosa hecha de agujeros. Ausencias. Pérdidas. Cosas que estaban ahí y ya no están. Y te daas cuenta, también, de que tienes que crecer alrededor y entre las grietas, sin embargo puedes poner tu mano donde estaban las cosas y sentir esa tensa y brillante opacidad del espacio donde están los recuerdos.’
Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk
Between January and July 2018 I made a new series of ceramic vessels for plants after I relocated from Berlin to Altea, Spain. I set up a studio in the basement of a house awaiting renovation. Here I was able to revisit and develop the square sided planters carved with cracks, fissures and erosion channels taken from the landscape around me. I developed newer, more complex forms and types of planter: freestanding columns, tired forms, cubes and pyramids, as well as hanging planters in the form of cubes. The cracks I started gingerly in Los Angeles in 2017 grew and developed. As in LA, these always start with a real-world observation: cracks in concrete, road line paint, dried mud and sun-baked vinyl signs. Every material fractures differently and thus has its own story to tell.
Cracks in the Grid
In 2017 I spent three months as artist-in-residence at the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles. Working in an open-air studio in the garden of the Foundation, I made the subject of my residency the city itself.
LA is a different kind of city to any other I have known. It sprawls between the mountains and the ocean like a sea. What really struck me about the place was the light, the strong vibrant colours and forms, the diversity of plants from arid, tropical and subtropical regions all over the world, and the grid. The grid drapes over the Los Angeles basin, up and down hills, running at right angles until it gets to the mountain ranges that run west to east across the city, where the streets wriggle up the hills and canyons in crazy bends.
The array of planted vessels at different heights were my interpretation of this intersection of the grid and the topography of LA. These were planted with succulents designed to resemble the palm trees and giant succulents and cacti that populate the streets and gardens of this strange and wonderful city.
Titled Cracks in the Grid, my work was exhibited at Bradley Duncan Studio Gallery, 669 N Berendo Street, and in the garden of the Tom of Finland Foundation, Echo Park.
Contemplating LA from high up overlooks on Mullholland Drive or the Observatory terrace in Griffith Park, or close up at the asphalt and concrete invaded by exotic weeds on a parking lot, you see it for what it is, an endless collision and interplay between human and natural forms and processes.
Between 2016-2018 this time I started in earnest making ceramic planters inspired by Mughal geometric forms and motifs. Later I started making planters with broken edges derived from the ruined and derelict buildings I saw around the city.
For a capital city Berlin is unusually green. This is partly a consequence of its unique and violent history - heavily bombed during the second world war and then divided for many years by the Berlin Wall. Even today the city’s population is still lower than its pre-war total. As a result it still contains many vacant lots and areas of open ground where weeds and urban woodland prevail. Also Germany’s strong tradition of environmentalism means no herbicides are used on public parks and streets. So road verges, cobbles and pavements are full of weeds. They soften a city whose character can tend towards the austere, and they support a large population of insects and birds. These photographs were taken on a walk around Kreuzberg in late summer, when the spontaneous urban greenery on the streets is at its most messy and luxuriant.
Chenopodium album (Goosefoot)
Stellaria media (Chickweed)
Taraxacum offinale (Dandelion)
Plantago major (Plaintain)
Fallopia japonica (Japanese Knotweed)
Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)
Conzya canadensis (Fleabane)
Elymus repens (Couch Grass)
Conzya canadensis (Fleabane)
Plantago major (Plaintain)
Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven)
Tanacetum vulgare (Tansy)
Solidago canadensis (Goldenrod)
Solanum lycopersicum (Tomato)
Sorghum halapense (Johnsongrass)
Alcea rosea (Hollyhock)
Malva neglecta (Common Mallow)
Erigeron canadensis (Goldenrod)
Chenopodium album (Goosefoot)
Kentish Town garden
I redesigned this mature walled London garden as part of a renovation of the house, which divided it into an upper two storey apartment and ground floor garden flat, accessed at the back. At the back of a garden a new home office sits next to an old apple tree on screw pile foundations designed to minimise disturbance to the tree’s roots. A broad path in self-binding gravel leads from the home office to a new terrace around the house of clay setts. The self-binding gravel is divided from the lawn with a margin of rounded pebbles set in cement.
Ujjain is a small and ancient city in the semi-arid landscape of western Madhya Pradesh, close to Rajasthan. Its Mahakal temple, dedicated to Shiva as the destroyer of time, is one of the most important sacred sites in India.
I worked with INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage) to develop a masterplan for the polluted and degraded landscape around the Rudra Sagar lake at the edge of the city, close to the Mahakal temple. Its objectives were ecological, social and economic: restoring the health of the lake, recreating the sacred forest that used to exist around the city as a new series of green public spaces, and providing for pilgrims and tourists visiting Ujjain. The masterplan includes provision for biofiltration reed beds and water treatment, an Interpretation Centre and parking for visitors, a food court and market, and dry deciduous native forest habitat all around the lakeside.
Île de Ré garden
I worked with trees associates to build and plant this garden on the Île de Ré on the Atlantic coast of France. The single storey house on a long narrow plot is reached through a small belt of woodland garden, underplanted with hydrangeas and white bluebells. Alongside the house we planted a garden of clipped Mediterranean shrubs interspersed with flowering bulbs and herbaceous flowers, all selected to suit the poor sandy soil and drying maritime conditions. The property has its own access to the adjacent beach through a sand dune with some mature pines. Here we kept the natural character of the landscape, pruning the pines to lift their canopies and planting drought tolerant grasses and bulbs into the dune.
London green roof
This green roof was retrofitted onto an existing 1970s flat roof. After renewing the roof membrane, we installed a timber framework over the roof. Within this framework sits the drainage layer of corrugated perforated sheets that support and hold the green roof clear of the membrane. Over this a durable geotextile holds the growing medium, which is a blend of crushed waste terracotta and recycled green waste compost.
I planted the roof with a mix of herbaceous plants, grasses and succulents selected for their ability to tolerate sun and wind exposure and drought. I also planted several bulbs of species Crocus, Tulip and Muscari (Grape Hyacinth). Over time I’ve added more plants as seeds or cuttings found in gardens, on beaches, wastelands and other habitats with analogous conditions to this rooftop in central London. Some like the hare’s tail grass (Lagurus ovatus) with its furry flower and seed heads, have multiplied and thrived. This and the Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) were collected from sand dunes on the west coast of France. The roof is an ongoing experiment.
The living roof attracts numerous birds, bees and other insects, and it has noticeably reduced noise from planes overhead on the flight path to Heathrow airport.
London family garden
This garden was made as part of a comprehensive renovation and extension of the house. Working with the architect, I redesigned the garden to integrate it with the house and its new large kitchen and family room. This new room has a green roof above it, planted with robust and drought tolerant shrubs, grasses and succulents. Floor to ceiling sliding glass doors give out onto a terrace paved in riven Yorkstone. From here broad steps lead down to a lawn with an old apple tree which we retained as part of the new scheme. Along one side of the garden is a woven willow tunnel conceived as a play space for the family’s young children. At the back of the garden, two wings of hornbeam hedging screen a compost heap and greenhouse, as well as a trampoline.
A new basement extension created a lightwell courtyard in this modern West London house. Working with the architect responsible for the extension, I redesigned the garden to integrate lightwell and ground level. The lightwell has something of the character of a grotto, with basalt setts in concentric rings on the floor and black pebble mosaic on the wall. This contrasts with the brighter upper level, with its walls rendered and painted a warm stone colour, and new buff colour sawn Yorkstone paving. A small green roof on the basement extension is planted with flowering herbaceous plants and grasses.