So, why Rhododendrons?

My mural on Woodland Grove in Greenwich is composed of mandala patterning overlaid with bright and bold rhododendron plants, in reference to the client's connection to India. There are so many wonderful plants that I could have chosen for this commission, but in the end I wanted to work with the rhododendron for the following reasons.

A key one was that, although they seem to bloom on every street come April and May, it came as a surprise that rhododendrons are not actually native to the UK. In fact, many varieties grow aggressively and often choke local vegetation. When I found out that they can grow in the Himalayas where they mark the start of spring (although this is being affected by climate change), I knew that I wouldn't be alone in finding this a spectacular vision in contrast to our everyday experience of these plants. Applying layers of Indian mandalas in the painting alludes to this.

The splendour of the Rhododendrons is marvellous: there are 10 kinds on this hill, scarlet, white, lilac, yellow, pink, marroon [sic]: the cliffs actually bloom with them.
— Joseph Hooker, a mid-19th century plant hunter in Asia

I've also been fascinated by 19th century plant hunters and botanical illustrators, with accounts by the likes of Joseph Hooker and Marianne North of encountering rhododendrons in the wild particularly evocative (I highly recommend reading 'Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North'). So, I really liked the idea of Londoners being able to stumble across these vibrant plants on an ordinary street, where they have been re-exoticised in a spectacle that encourages one to almost step inside the plant, seeing it in a whole new light.


And I really enjoyed discovering how alien the plants look when studied close up and wanted to share and encourage this close observation with viewers. So, from the curved tubes of the stamen with tips that look like eyes topped with pollen, to the fragility of the petals stamped with striking, branching patterns, the mural offers an intimate glimpse of a plant often experienced in passing. 

For the love of colour!

Eleven days into the mural in Greenwich and I am so enjoying working with acrylic on brick. It's a completely different experience to working on my regular surfaces of interior walls, canvas and board and I'm very keen to create a mural that doesn't try to mask the base - I'd like the artwork to become part of the structure. To achieve this, I am applying the colour in thin translucent layers to build up a punchy colour whilst maintaining the texture of the brick. It's more time consuming but the effect is worth it - it retains a sense of the fragility of the subject, and I am enjoying how throughout the day different lights reveal different details, such as petal folds and veins. 

Here's a sneak peek of one part of the mural, where you can see I've applied a solid colour for the petal's pattern - the other elements have been gradually built up in layers.

 Mid-way through applying the acrylic layers

Mid-way through applying the acrylic layers