In the summer I got into nasturtiums. Rather, my allotment did. It feels frustratingly hard to recall already, but the summer of 2012 was seriously wet; in fact, the whole year seems to have been wet – the high-point being the floods around Christmas. Early on, it meant that my parsnip seedlings and carrots and everything that might still be in the ground, that might fill my trug with home-grown goodness, got washed away. I was left with a few standards – beans – hurrah! and pumpkins that miraculously managed to flower in July and August and even got pollinated, despite the decimation of the bee population. As I rooted about in vain for my leek seedlings, or tried to salvage the few lettuces that had survived the slug attacks, I gradually gave in to the plants that wanted to be there, with their generous plate-shaped leaves and extraordinarily exotic flowers. The nasturtiums. Banks and banks of them rose up to meet the rain. However many leaves and buds I took away to decorate my Lidl-bought salads, they were soon replaced, and more. Each plant seemed to produce a different variety of hooded bloom – some were yellow with patches of saffron, some had pure lemon-yellow petals with even paler centres, others had juicy orange ones, psychadelically bright…and later came the reds – a deep scarlet and, even rarer, a rusty blood red, the flower heads more fragile and insubstantial than the others, their leaves tinged with blues and purples.
Before my prose becomes any more purple, I need to let you know what this post is about – my paintings! In August, during another rainy patch I sat in my studio and surveyed my collection of acrylics on canvas – an anaemic pot of sweet peas and come bold nudes. I really need to work more boldly with colour, I thought. Which is how come the allotment produce show came about. Down to the plot I went and culled what looked most inspiring – a few branches of Painted Lady beans (leaves, flowers and the fruit), a couple of Crown Prince pumpkins…and of course the nasturtiums. It was not just the fact that they had proved so colourful and so prolific that I did so many paintings of them (more than eight at the last count). It was simply that the more I observed these flowers the more I became fascinated by them – the gloriously curving shapes of trumpet flower and tapering tail, their wonderfully curling stems; the way the light shone through both their petals and their leaves. Most importantly, they were so full of life – literally – a bunch left standing on my desk would turn and loll and lift, even as I painted it. I grew to accept that whatever I had composed would be utterly changed within a few hours, let alone if I left the flowers overnight (during which time they might close or wilt, never to open and lift again). Placing their forms on canvas was a really good lesson in ‘life painting’ – the conundrum of setting something moving and energetic into the seeming fixed-ness of paint.
And now there they are, hanging on the black wall of our local cafe – OXFORK, waiting for folk to lift them from their mooring and take them home – to kitchen walls, I imagine. And all I will have left to show for it (with any luck) will be fast-disappearing cash…