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Christine McArthur | Studio Insights

25 April 2023


The Borrowed Gardens in this exhibition are borrowed in every sense. I have used them as starting points for my own imagination. I visit many gardens. I draw if it’s quiet and take photographs if it’s not. Each garden I visited became about something different… and I didn’t know what until I got there, or after I had left it behind. In this exhibition, I have selected work from Le Vieux Logis, Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, Mayfield Farm, Le Bugue, the Charleston Garden and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Watch our short film here as we take a look through Christine’s sketchbooks capturing her observations, colour compositions and the changing seasons


I started making embroideries because of my grandfather, who served in WWI. When he returned home, to Durham, he was taught how to embroider to help him recover from his experience of the great war.  It was a practice he kept for the rest of his life.  Of course, I didn’t know anything of this when I was young, I remember him sitting on his sofa with cloth in hand, sewing – a million threads, cut and split smothered the back of the sofa. Naturally, I have fascinated with embroidery, and I work to with own natural understanding, and it has become an extension of my own personal art practice.  My grandad also had an amazing garden, he was very green fingered: flowers, fruit vegetables and hens and in this series I am borrowing my memories of him as both a maker and a gardener.

I spent a year making these Zen garden embroideries. I have a fascination for Japanese gardens. As I began each embroidery, I didn’t know what the final design was. I just sewed and let them grow naturally and instinctively bringing in details of what I have observed and felt as I went along. Not at all like the careful planning of a traditional embroidery – I work by instinct and let the composition evolve. There are some elements of the 12th century herbalist, Saint Hildegarde, in there. She had been an early thought in my embroidery - her visions and illuminations from Scivias.


I was first introduced to the work of Thomas Maxwell from his beautiful floral displays that he made for the Fine Art Society in Glasgow. I wanted to paint flowers which were a bit wilder and more unusual. Thomas Maxwell chose a vast array of beautiful flowers for me, with an instinct and speed that took me aback; he gave me so many flowers that I had to go out to buy more vases. I stared and stared for days at his floral composition, almost too overwhelmed to do anything and this is how my Summer Garden in Five Vases (above) came about.

I love painting flowers. I can think of no better way to bring colour, great patterns and a hundred surprises into a painting.


My watercolours are painted in organic paints made in Belgium from plants – which means they go through a ‘lengthy adventure’ before they are produced. The paint has quite a grainy and unpredictable nature themselves which I find helps amplify the paintings.  I painted alliums and red chairs from the Charleston Garden in East Sussex.  When Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant arrived at Charleston in 1916, the garden was filled with fruit trees and vegetables. It was redesigned in 1918 by the art critic Roger Fry, a close friend, who created the rectangular lawn, gravel paths and flowerbeds, which Bell and Grant filled with the flowers they loved to paint.  I have loved to paint it too.

My sister’s garden, which is in the middle of nowhere near the Ochil Hills is tended by my nephew, Fraser, who is the inspiration for the golden seat, the bird table and the lost Capercaillie…

I have the same interest in a plot of potatoes growing in an allotment with a broken-down seat at the side for the gardener, as an impressive formal flower border, or a group of beehives in a field, or an unexpected find of red fungi hiding near a tree. Sometimes I’ll make an ink drawing using walnut ink as a mark of respect to nature, or sometimes I might use an impression of colour and texture which might become a preparatory work for an embroidery or collage.

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