Frustrated by the lack of inspiring objects in the environment, Emma Boyd set up an online gallery of artworks for gardens, aiming to give private buyers more of a say about art in the open...
Between the whimsy of the garden centre gnome and the serietà of the fine art gallery, there is an immense body of work that people find uplifting, when they can find it. These days we are told we have burgeoning levels of choice, but personally I find even the smallest boutiques sell similar items to the next, never mind the chain stores that line up with increasing monotony on all our high streets.
Ive always been attracted to sculpture, especially large-scale pieces, and at the same time am not one for things in glass cases. I want my sculpture to live and change; hence outdoor work became my niche and ARt OUTSiDE was launched in March 2003, designed to extend the pleasure of art into gardens and beyond.
Historically of course, sculpture was often on a large, if not huge scale, and sited in gardens, on the streets and in the open air generally. Ironically, today we are more concerned with making things last and hence keeping them safely indoors.
The talk today of placing art in gardens is with the idea of creating a counterpoint to nature. Work is available in many forms, and ARt OUTSiDE aims to show work of both fine and functional art, sculpture and craft as long as it had been designed to live permanently out of doors. Traditional heavyweights such as stone, wood, and bronze are shown next to more modern materials, of which there is quite a range to choose from cold-cast resins (stone, metals and more); stone- and wood-carving; thrown, coiled and built ceramics (stoneware and terracotta); blown, slumped, cast, stained, stacked and etched glass; fibreglass; concrete; mosaic; carved brick; hand-painted tiles; woven willow, whether living or cut; cast or welded metals, including traditional blacksmithing; pieces from wire and wire-netting; textiles; driftwood; found, recycled and living materials; as well as paintings to hang or as murals. Its a long list, but worth mentioning as Im sure many people assume the range is very narrow.
The public/private divide
Commissioners of public art are very different from private buyers, not least because they buy for very different reasons. Many of the pieces for private consumption could be scaled up, one way or another, for public areas, commercial developments and civic monuments, hospitals, schools or other creative projects. But taste itself often provides grounds for hesitation to commission public art. Perhaps because of its physical presence, public sculpture can engender fierce public debate and controversy, which public officials can be reluctant to risk.
There are always the questions of health and safety too, and security issues as well. Furthermore, the funding for public art often comes from the establishment, which tends to favour the avant-garde effectively crowding out private interest in beautiful things. I compare this with the role of the wine taster having that as your job means you crave something highly unusual, but the ordinary consumer just wants something enjoyable. And so the agendas begin to part their ways&
On the other hand, the public, left to itself, can often select quite unimaginative work, especially pure, straightforward representation, be that a person, thing, place or scene, which can often result in a twee or hackneyed outcome. This being among the greatest fears of public commissioners, it leads many to avoid consulting with the public as they should. Architects, too, can be guilty of this, and even sometimes the artists themselves, presumably because they want the freedom to create what it is they want!
So what is needed is better consultation, and guided, explainable design and some concessions on both sides hardly rocket science. Many in the art establishment hate the Angel of the North, yet members of the public seem to love it. Its not just a portrait, but would the public have chosen it for themselves, and how many objected? Does it have a meaning or is it simply a visual anthem? Perhaps the only way of knowing is to ask people what it is that attracts them& but public consultation isnt always an effective way of enabling people to put this into words. Perhaps this is why so much of what is inspiring has been privately commissioned.
Out of the gallery
I see many articles about innovative art projects and yet all I come across are the bronze busts of historical worthies. So where is this innovative art, how is the money being spent and who is making these decisions?
The art establishment is overdriven with conceptual art, temporary installations and the digital age. It is this orthodoxy of thought that has discredited murals and suggests that public seating can never be art (Gaudis Park Guell in Barcelona, and his other innovations in architecture and public art, must simply be old hat), while, plinths are disparaged as elitist.
Whats it all for?
Lord McAlpine, a prolific collector of 1960s art, declared in an interview, I was neither aware, nor did I particularly care about the thought, these concepts, behind the work I bought I just liked the way it looked! Surely art should not require to be explained in words to be appreciated. Theres only so far you can go in bringing overly conceptual work into the public domain without just simply wasting time and money, and bringing art into disrepute. But if public sculpture isnt to our tastes and we cant have our say, what we can do is put what we like in our own spaces. Ignore the trends and other peoples opinions art in gardens is an opportunity for individuals to vote with their feet.
From bronzes several feet high to ceramics of only several inches, art can be accessible in whatever form suits the individual from details to dramatic statements, and from sculpture and murals to seating and pots. Remove the stifling definitions of art, sculpture and craft and simply find what you like, something that inspires you, something with colour or wit, something to enjoy. My aim is to help create joyful spaces, with colour, dynamic lines and long-term interest.