Ian Gardner 1944-2019
June 24, 2019 § 1 Comment
Ian Gardner, the eminent watercolourist, has died in his home town of Lancaster at the age of 75. He attended Lancaster School of Art, before post-graduate studies at Nottingham School of Art under David Measures and David Willetts. His work developed through the flatness of America Minimalist painting, which he then applied to printmaking, and screenprinting in particular. Eventually discovered an equivalent reductive flatness of imagery in the watercolours of John Sell Cotman and other essentially English painters in the medium.
The collaborative work he did with Tarasque Press in Nottingham with Simon Cutts and Stuart Mills led him from the visual to the literary and back again, and culminated in the group exhibition ‘Metaphor and Motif’ in 1972 which travelled widely in Britain and Northern Ireland. He worked with the American poet Jonathan Williams, who lived in Dentdale, Cumbria to produce ‘Pairidaeza’, a portfolio of images of topiaries from the nearby Levens Hall in Kendal. These were to become archetypes of his reduction of watercolour to simple forms. : his work was to redeem the medium from the folly of assumed amateurism, and imbue it with new possibility.
He taught in many places, mostly in printmaking at Bradford School of Art, where he spawned a school around him, of flat watercolour and print landscapes, with artists like Karl Torok, and others who became the New Arcadians, with the historical input of Patrick Eyres. He once hired a bus to take his excited students to the birthplace of Frederic Delius, the composer. The assembled company boarded the bus early one morning. It drove round the corner, where they were told to get off. They had arrived at the Delius Brothers Garage in the middle of Bradford!
At the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois in the mid-West, where he taught from 1987-88, he painted the endless landscape on inch strips of paper one yard long, and mailed them home in 35mm film canisters.
He became a constant collaborator of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press in Lanarkshire during the early nineteen eighties and produced some of his most developed collaborations on print, book, and card projects with the poet. Perhaps most enduring are the sectional watercolours for A Walled Garden: A History of the Spandau Garden in the Time of the Architect Albert Speer, the emblem book Finlay devised from his correspondence with Speer about his own rubble garden at Spandau, in the late nineteen seventies.
Ian receiving the certificate for first-prize
for the Best Regional Mantelpiece Display,
2018. photo Alistair Peebles
Back in Lancaster, his later work took on the celebration of domesticity, his allotment garden and its produce, the kitchen plants where some of the imagery had begun. It was well short of the aspirations and pretensions of contemporaneity. The notion of the immediacy of publishing stayed with him all his life, and even after serious illness, the ‘At a Stroke’ series of cards and printed ephemera continued to the end, running to an accumulation of twenty plus items. He could be found in the Sun Hotel, hanging a few pictures in a side room, and attending to his correspondence and sending out cards at his regular table.
Ailsa Craig. 1983
Hi Simon. I’m sad to learn of Ian Gardner’s death but was very pleased that you have written so well of him. It catches his spirit as I knew it (at a distance). I recollect Metaphor and Motif at the Midland Group very clearly. Great times. Joan and I meant to write some weeks ago when you sent your obituary of Bill Culbert which was very well done. The photo of his work in the attic room at Oiron brought back many visits to see it when we inhaled the heady scent of red wine and the delicacy of the light.
Best wishes to you and Erica. Hope we catch up again soon and before any more obituaries.