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There is a spot where the cultivated meet the wild – purple toadflax popping up among the lavender in most gardens, parks, and windowsills; a yellow poppy nestling in a door crack, the creeping buttercup underneath the fence: among the tulips, the auriculas, the vivid and showy dahlias, the wild weeds of the forest. Some dig them up, some let them mix, some get their sketch pads out and some draw. Angie Lewin is one of the latter, rising, at least for a season, many of the wild visitors from the woodland next to her Edinburgh garden. And the contrast between two worlds is the subject of her latest watercolor exhibition, her first on the Scottish Gallery’s large upper floor in Edinburgh, a mixture of the wild and the cultivated, the loose and delicate shapes found on the bank of the Speyside River, and the brightly colored cultivations of the garden of Edinburgh.
Lewin, a printmaker who is well known for her distinctive prints full of seed heads and umbellifers, bases her work on the minutiae, if not the exact botanical specifics, of her surrounding plants. The way she looks at the world in her art is that kind of near look, even in the middle of a landscape of towering mountains or rough beaches, and the process of paying attention to the little stuff was something that became even more meaningful when the lockdown came earlier this year and she found herself unanchored.
For a lot of artists and writers I know, I think it was the same – at least for those who were not homeschooled,”I think it was the same for a lot of artists and writers I know – at least the ones who weren’t homeschooled,” A few days before closing, she came from Speyside to Edinburgh for a meeting with the Scottish Gallery, and then decided to stay. “I felt unsettled for a few weeks, even though I usually work from home. A bit lost, in a strange way.” But as for many, nature and the enjoyment of watching things grow became a great source of coping. Lewin’s home has a small but beautiful garden in Edinburgh that borders a wooded forest. “I had bought some auriculas the year before,” Lewin says of the small, colorful primrose that originated many centuries ago in alpine meadows. “The lucky thing for me was that my auriculas started blooming right when the closure occurred. And because I was there feeding them, they bloomed, so I had a focus. I did a lot of watercolors of the auriculas – there was something very calming about being able to focus so much on things at the plant level.”
The auricula watercolors are bold, with the flowers themselves displayed against patterned backgrounds, including a bright orange woodblock-printed Japanese paper in one especially striking picture. From witch hazel to astrantia and dahlias, other cultivated flowers and plants also appear. The watercolors are from the past 18 months, during which she made almost no prints, unusually. “But I love the flow of watercolor, the way the pigments get gritty. It’s a really flexible process. I use very thick paper, almost like cardboard, and scrub back when I’ve applied too much color. It’s so satisfying. The paper shines through, and sometimes you get random products of layers of color, a different density, there’s a nice variation.” There are Lewisian gneiss pebbles and dried-bladderwrack pods in subdued colors. Valerian and Scabiosa come from the banks of the Spey River. In her workshop, she gathers all this, a hodgepodge of feathers, pebbles and seed heads waiting to be arranged in the patterned ceramics she finds in junk and antique shops.
“I’m drawn to patterns and recreating them,” says Lewin, born in Cheshire, who studied at Central St. Martins in London as a printmaker but still brought her watercolors around with her, painting being a productive counterpoint to printmaking’s bold colors and weight. “In a way, for me, the decoration or pattern is more important than the form. The pattern making is an essential part of the whole.” And then she laughs. “That’s probably why my plants aren’t botanically correct!”
Lewin is going to turn her attention back to printmaking now, but she recounts