Gardening as Art: Tessa Pearson

Gardening as art – and gardens as inspiration for art. Tessa Pearson appears to exist perfectly, somewhere between these worlds.

It’s not actually clear where her studio (in the garden of her Surrey home) ends – and the exquisite planting of the surrounding beds and borders begins. What is abundantly clear, is what Pearson sees all around her in her acre, is ultimately reimagined on sumptuous Arches or Saunders Waterfoot Cotton Rag paper – and the end result is incredibly special.

Paintings of gardens recur throughout history. From Adam & Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder, (1526), to Golding Constable’s Flower Garden by John Constable (1815), the study of nature – and ‘the garden’, has always represented a channel for artists to explore meaning and expression. Although firmly categorised as a symbolist painter, Gustav Klimt’s Flower Garden from 1906, presents a floral impressionist style that arguably connects the viewer not only to Van Gogh’s work, but more than a century later, also to the vibrant depictions of colour and pattern, that makes Pearson’s work much sought after.

Tessa Pearson painting in her Surrey garden

Pearson lists Matisse and Hodgkin among sources of inspiration, in addition to the late Albert Irvin, with whom she shares a very special ability to employ the boldest of colour and mark – to create sensitive and delicate works.

I may be over-thinking it: “Basically – I paint flowers because I love them” Pearson pointedly explained to me recently. “I’m also at the age I don’t care what people think”.

After studying Printed Textile design at the Royal College of Art, the artist went on to produce printed silks from her own studio and gallery in London. Among many high-profile admirers of her work, a Liberty of London commission firmly established Pearson as a maker held in the highest regard. She readily explains that the arrival of her three children changed both her priorities – and her practice.

Watercolour painting now represents an important strand of Pearson’s work and it’s her beautifully framed pieces that can be viewed on Royal Parade this month. ‘The Artists Garden’ is the latest exhibition by the former ‘Surrey Artist of the Year’ and adds Watermark Gallery and Harrogate to an esteemed list, that includes previous exhibitions in Hong Kong, Germany, Singapore and – closer to home – Hampton Court.

Pearson’s garden and planting designs aren’t accidental. “I plant for painting” she tells me. Her Instagram images provide the best way for most of us to experience how natural detail in a Hot or Prairie border, travel across the pages of her sketch book, before heading into the studio to finally become vibrant and happy works of art. But until 30 September, it’s highly recommended that a Watermark viewing isn’t missed.

In addition to the exhibition, there is a unique opportunity to join Fabulous Florals an artist-led workshop on 24 and 25 September, as Tessa Pearson shares how she finds inspiration for her paintings from flowers and gardens.

The Royal Horticultural Society tell us that the month of September in the garden is all about harvesting produce, preparing for the cooler weather and planning for next year. While there is still colour in abundance, many of us are mindful that the growing season is slowing. Thankfully Pearson’s The Artist’s Garden exhibition is filling Watermark Gallery with the happiest colours and most joyous works throughout this month.

By Colin Petch


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