Welcome to the exhibition catalogue for Fletcher Prentice's ‘The Painted Garden’. We are thrilled to be presenting the show at the gallery this September. Fletcher Prentice has been a key gallery artist for nearly 10 years, exhibiting in a number of group shows and art fairs. Curating the exhibition with him has been fantastic, watching the collection develop over the recent months and visiting his home and incredible garden to record the podcast. In the exhibition, Fletcher explores his contemporary version of the Arcadian vision, bringing the outside into our homes through his paintings.
The backdrop for the exhibition is his own garden. A keen gardener, he has created an artist’s playground, arranging the planting for structure, drama and colour. His studio is situated in the midst of a wild flower meadow strewn with beautiful flowers and bordered by a yew hedge. He says ‘I leave much to chance. After creating the initial planting I let the flowers seed and wait each year to see what comes back.’ Other areas nearer the house are more formal with deep flower beds filled with echinacea and drama added by towering artichokes and thistles.
I was lucky to visit Fletcher and see the garden first hand. As we walked up to the studio, butterflies filled the air and we were serenaded by birdsong. It was as if I was walking through one of the paintings, truly magical. We sat in the garden to record the podcast and to be surrounded by an artist’s inspiration so directly is rare. One of my key questions was ‘what comes first: the garden or the painting?’ as they so clearly feed each other.
The idea behind bringing the outside in, goes back to ancient Rome. Often their subterranean rooms were decorated with frescos painted to give windows onto the world all year round. Frescos by their nature have a fresh vitality to them as they have to be painted rapidly, working with the setting plaster and so fixing the imagery as it dries. The Villa Livia is an example of one such room, now in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome. This lightness of touch gives the brushwork a surprisingly contemporary feel. Fletcher has studied the technique and brought it into his work, marvelling that these paintings are ‘fifteen hundred years old and it took us until the Renaissance to rediscover painting in this way’.
The layering of these two distinct subjects in Fletcher’s paintings for the exhibition has created a body of work with intense, exuberant beauty. The majority of the works are maximal in their nature; the structure created by an apple tree or yew hedge, then the plant life takes over as borders bursting with flowers, birds and butterflies fill our vision. Describing the energy and the bounty of the garden, they are a heightened, slightly exaggerated view of an ideal, but one we can all relate to. Fletcher cleverly creates a balance by including smaller, delicate studies of individual birds and flowers. By focusing just on one subject, he creates visual space in the exhibition. The bird studies for example, are painted in one sitting so he can capture the essence of the bird, perching just before it takes flight.
The ‘Painted Garden’ has largely been been created over the spring and summer of 2020. Fletcher went through the lockdown with the exhibition to focus on and he gives an alternative view of what has been for us all the most extraordinary of times. Connecting with nature through these difficult months has been a release and escape for many. Fletcher hopes that through this body of work people will find a joy and a place to escape to in his paintings, one where we can immerse ourselves in his Arcadian Vision.
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