Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Filming THE ARTIST’S GARDEN – AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM
Hello everyone. Apologies for these too-long gaps between blogs but it has been fantastically busy recently being in production of 4 films and in pre-production of 4 others. We also distribute our own films and that means dealing with 50+ countries now, all of whom we love dearly but all of whom do have different needs and requirements. I’ve always said days should be 36 hours long! (Yes, I know that makes no sense…). Anyway, I am just back from an exhausting but wonderful shooting trip to the United States and I hope you’ll like to hear a little bit more about it. We are making a film about the American Impressionist period that essentially stretches from 1880-1920 and, in particular, its linkage to the development of the garden at the same time. It’s a film with challenges of course – I doubt if too many of our audience in Chile or Italy, Korea or South Africa know the names of Hassam, Wier, Robinson, Chase, etc, but I find that exciting; we’re bringing to you some superb and significant artists who played a key role in creating and developing an American school of art. Through them we will also get a real insight into two other conjoining narratives: the changing nature of American society at that time and the developing emancipation of women who were progressing from being merely the object of the male artist’s gaze to becoming significant artists in their own right.
Me and my super crew’s journey began in Boston, took in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. It is such a huge country and this is but a 500 stretch of coastline but as one interviewee put it ‘this is the country’s megopolis’. It is so rich in both urban and rural splendour. Many of the American impressionists lived in cities but sought the restorative powers of the country garden & landscape whenever they could, especially in the summer. Jumping on the new railroads made this easy and it’s no accident that so-called artist colonies sprung up all over – most notably at Cos Cob, Cornish, Old Lyme and on Appledore Island. Here groups of artists – largely men but certainly not exclusively so – came to paint in convivial surroundings. As you can imagine, gardens were an excellent resource offering up many manner of colour combinations – and ever-changing depictions of light. In our film we will explore the growth of the garden in America – and clearly this dates back to the early settlers (but for sustenance and medicaments) – up to the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries when the garden became a place of respite and reflection. Some of these plants and flowers had arrived recently to the USA and artists could easily spend as much time painting a flower or flowers as they would a human portrait. There was a trade the other way too – I was fascinated to hear from one of my interviewees the story of the native American flower we call the sunflower.
That was an export to Europe…and think of Van Gogh and others who fell in love with that particular exotic import. Monet’s example is just as strong – the story of the water lily is fascinating and too long for a blog but look it up.
I am forever enthralled by how artists study their garden subjects – and, more than that, study the light that falls on flowers and plants. The light variations are endless and the great artists all share that passion to look, learn, capture. There were a good handful too of American artists who made a bee-line for Giverny (and Monet). Monet was no teacher but one or two made it through his personal defences – becoming a friend, quasi-student, even in one case a relative. His art was more open to all-comers.This radical new style of ‘impressionism’ was much taken upon by the visiting artists and it wasn’t long before they were taking it home with them. This, allied with the arrival in American collections, of the first impressionist works from France created this new artistic movement on the eastern shores of the United States.
As ever, everyone we met in these locations and galleries was so enthusiastic and generous that it made the shoot a real pleasure. It’s always a slog – up early, to bed late, and so on but if the film can capture the joy and expertise of this fascinating story then we’ll have done our job. We’re already editing and, frankly, a little awash with footage and stories but we’ll find a nice clear path through our own complex garden and hope you’ll enjoy our colourful offering as much as these artists enjoyed them.