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Wednesday 3 June 2020

In conversation with Louise Anderson

Our ‘in conversation’ this week is with artist, printmaker, teacher and gardener, Louise Anderson who took inspiration on the photos of the garden at Byfield House on Church Road in Barnes from the Leslie Paton Collection to create her two correlated pieces for Beyond The Frame.

Louise Anderson in her studio at Kew

How did you start being an artist?

I have always drawn, even as a child, and I won a prize when I entered The Chamber of Commerce in Merton competition and got paid £3.00 – I must have been only 13. I never really followed this as a career but went back to my artistic practice in 2011 when I was going through a challenging period in my life. I attended Putney School of Art & Design and was fortunate to work with Jason Hicklin, an incredible printmaker who encouraged me to apply to art school. So, at the age of 48, I finally followed my dream of going to Kingston School of Art to do an MA in Art & Space. I then started believing that I was an artist. It’s funny to see how you think you need a piece of paper to prove what you are… Looking back now, I can see that I have always been an artist at heart.

You describe yourself as a printmaker, educator, gardener and you are very busy leading workshops about different techniques like cyanotype, marbling, bookbinding, using recycled wire to create artworks, but working also on your allotment. What role do you find the most comfortable with and how do they complement each other?

An interesting question, I think they all merge into one. I am happiest when I am outside within nature, and that is why a lot of my artistic practice is within and about nature. I love to share this joy through teaching and, hence, why this is also an important part of my life too.

Alexander Nesbitt Esquires Glasshouse of Byfield House, by Louise Anderson

Can you describe your creative process? Is it the technique that leads your work or is it the subject and you then choose the technique that goes with it?

I think this is a tricky question, but I will try my best. You have an idea, a hunch, something that is on your mind, something that later translates into you starting and following it through. At the moment I am mulling over the concept of time; for us all, this is a tricky time and to use the currently much-heard phrase, these are ‘unprecedented times’. I am thinking about the meaning of time, what it is all about and how it relates to you as an individual. I take photographs, start gathering notes and writing. Then, when the ‘time’ is right, I sit down and start working. Regarding the technique, it will depend but it will often be printmaking in combination with other processes. I like to create layers so that the viewer has an opportunity to interpret the image in the way they wish to.

Palm House, Looking up to the Sky, by Louise Anderson

Is it the proximity of the Royal Botanical Gardens to your studio in Kew that makes you have an ongoing theme with palm trees (and cheese plant leaves) and glasshouses? And was it because you were interested in them that you chose the photos of the garden at Byfield House to create your Palm House screenprint and your Glasshouse for BTF?

To be honest, no. There have been many reasons why I created this piece: a fascination with glass, the layers that this creates, how it can frame the way you view something. Probably about four months before my submission for Beyond the Frame, I visited John Lewis Partnership Heritage Centre walled garden in Cookham where I found an abandoned glasshouse and this set me off on this project. I felt I wanted to do something with glass and on the theme of glasshouses.

Regarding the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, I have always visited since I was a child – when you could gain entrance for 2p. I grew up in the 1970s and my parents had a cheese plant. I now have one too that my brother bought for me at Kew Gardens.

Garden and Greenhouse at Byfield House in Barnes, by unknown photographer, circa 1892

I loved the image of Byfield House in the collection and the fact that they had gardeners in the photograph as I am also a gardener. Historically, even in late Victorian times, plant hunters were still travelling around the world bringing back new and exotic plants. So, as you can see, the ideas bounce around; they do not come from a single source, they are all entwined.

Alexander Nesbitt Esquires Glasshouse of Byfield House (detail), by Louise Anderson

Your Glasshouse installation is mixed media, with loads of lovely and quirky details – and it feels like you really had fun making it. Are there any details or events in the process of making it that you would like to share with us?

I think that what I wanted was to create a story, to allow the viewer to explore the richness of this glasshouse. All the plants within the piece are plants that you could have found inside a glasshouse in 1892. I wanted it to be as authentic as possible but with a sense of playfulness. The tortoises were animals that the Victorians would have had – again an exotic creature from far flung parts of the globe. The budgerigars are in fact birds that I have flying around at home. The cyanotype image is a homage to the English botanical artist, collector and photographer Anna Atkins who created two books of photographs of British Algae, one in 1843 and another in 1853. I also wanted the original gardeners in the installation, as after all, they are as important as the plants. The stone tiled floor was hand drawn and painted; it took seven hours. I absolutely loved creating this piece.

Alexander Nesbitt Esquires Glasshouse of Byfield House (detail), by Louise Anderson

Besides BTF, you had planned a hectic spring with loads of workshops and activities in different art spaces (Surbiton cornerHOUSE, Teddington Landmark Arts Centre, Kew Art Studios). How are you rechannelling this at these quiet confinement times?

During this time, I have been working full time as a gardener. I am managing an allotment where I grow a lot of my food for the coming months – this is something I do every year. I have had very little time to be creative myself. However, I have been taking photographs, videos, sketching and writing. I also connect online with some members of an art group I work with in Isleworth twice a week and set them ideas and challenges.

Being in nature has really helped me. Working with my hands in the soil, planting seeds, watching them grow in my greenhouse is a joy. Then planting them out and seeing them flourish is such a gift. I am just taking time to celebrate life and I am sure that a new idea for a new project will emerge.

You can see more examples of Louise’s work on her website or you can find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

You can also view the entire Richmond Borough Art Collection online, at the Collection link on our main navigation bar, or by clicking here.