Janice McNab, The Ghost Artist — The Rift Valley (2022), 120x165cm, oil on linen
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‘Our Spectral Gardens’ at Galerie Maurits van de Laar, The Hague, 12 October – 5 November 2023

The futuristic landscapes of Our Spectral Gardens are based on the design of a scarf that belonged to my mother. Its 1950’s florals are transformed into painted hills of silk – landscapes that come from the patterns of the past. The shadows of animals and birds weave through some of the folds, made with my own hand shadows. In others, aloe vera leaves pinned with cocktail sticks dance and rise like spectral specimens from gardens of our future.

Our Spectral Gardens is an outcome of my research into The Ten Largest (1907), by Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944). I have traced the previously unknown influence of historic Swedish folk textiles within this now famous work, finding the imprint of embroidered plant designs in the paintings. The original patterns were created by women living in communities where historic, vitalist ideas of life, as bound up in with all earth’s forces, continued long after they were eradicated from industrialising communities. These ideas are represented in their coded embroideries, and they live on in the aesthetics of af Klint’s paintings.

A reconsideration of these roots underlies Our Spectral Gardens. The historic pattern I have been drawn to is a mass-produced garden design, a motif of mechanized modernity and the opposite of the hand embroidered. The scarf and its world view are what I grew up with, and its emotional ties have been a generative force in the studio, but the ghostly gardens I have painted distort the now outdated vision. They attempt some other weaving of ourselves back into our still beautiful living world.

For my written work on The Ten Largest, see Hilma af Klint & Piet Mondriaan: Forms of Life, Tate Publications, 2023.