Rogue: Art of a Garden by Rick Eckersley
Over thirteen years Rick Eckersley, one of Australia’s most iconic landscape architects and founder of Eckersley Garden Architecture, created and nurtured a property in Flinders, Victoria called Musk.
To add to his list of achievements, Rick recently had his third book published. Rogue: Art of a Garden published by Uro Books is a book about the art of a mesmerising coastal sculpture garden called Musk. Rick invited a select list of Australian artists to respond to this landscape masterpiece. The artists were able to immerse themselves in the property and respond directly to the magic of the space or refer to a large set of professional photographs by Will Salter.
In 2019 several artists from Otomys Contemporary were fortunate to be invited to creatively respond to Musk. As such, regular meetings were held in our Melbourne gallery. For Otomys Contemporary fine art photographer, Trevor Mein, the visit to Musk was so breathtaking but… not enough. Trevor wanted to understand the story of the artist behind the creation, so he asked Rick for a letter describing his relationship with the earth. With this holistic appreciation in mind, Trevor Mein photographed both the sculptural garden and its sky to express both artists interpretation of this extraordinary Australian property.
A Relationship with the Earth – a letter by Rick Eckersley to Trevor Mein.
Reflecting on my influences has taken me back to my childhood, growing up on a farm in Western Victoria in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Today the response to that natural landscape could be interpreted as vandalism. The stony rises which were covered in bracken were deliberately and slowly poisoned by super phosphate. The silver tussocks were slashed, and disc ploughed to accommodate the sewing of strawberry clover flats, specifically to feed sheep.
At the same time the land was drained of natural swamps. Draining these flats lead to the death of the swamp gums, the largest indigenous tree to the area. The desecration of the swamps destroyed not only native plant life but resulted in the loss of swan breeding habitat and the loss of refuge and breeding areas for other wild life.
This was the way things were done, however, at a very young age I begun to question this process. It made little sense to me. The loss of all this habitat to feed sheep to grow wool, which was sometimes profitable but often was not. Witnessing the loss of such a diverse and stunning landscape filled me with regret, but it also strengthened my appreciation of the fragility and beauty of native plants and wild life. Perhaps Musk is a response to this destruction of the balance in nature; a small gesture to restore beauty lost. Who knows?
In my school years I distinctly remember the change of pond life, at Musk guests often comment how loud the frogs are, a sound I find very comforting.
As a child we built stone houses out of the rocky rises, houses that looked a little like Stonehenge! When I left school, I planted my first home garden, making up simple garden beds around the homestead. Although I loved the wild native plants there were few to choose from as they were all gone by this stage. It was the era of pine plantations and Cyprus specimen trees.
My first success I recall was going to Dartmoor and collecting pine offcuts to make screens around the septic tank which I covered in ivy. This was the first time I remember making divisions within a garden, recognising that there are components to a garden. My success was to be short lived as the pine base was made of offcuts, which eventually collapsed under the weight of the ivy!
The philosophy at this time was that if something was tough and thrived it was a considered to be a weed. Thus, all native plants were thought to be weeds and weeds needed to be controlled. I recollect planting miniature gladioli at the farm which spread like wildfire, my mother was appalled at the propagation and promptly pulled them all out commenting that they were growing “just like weeds!” It was the dominant attitude at the time, whereas I always took the attitude that if something did very well it was a success. Even at this early age I was interested in field like planting, natural meadow style planting which included natives and exotics, mindful of how using colour, texture, proportion to balance could create harmony between these forms and tones to contribute to the spirit of the quintessentially Australian landscape.
As you can see my relationship with the earth is a complex one, but I would say it is one of deep respect. I hope this has been helpful to you in creating your own response to Musk.
With special thanks to Kim Eckersley, Uro Publications, U-P Books, Michael Bojkowski, Andrew Laidlaw, Trisha Dixon Burkett and Paul Bangay and featured Australian artists:
Gavin Brown – Painter
Ash Sherman – Sculptor
Bindi Howarth – Textile Designer
Fred Fowler – Painter
Trevor Mein – Photographer
Sophia Szilagyi – Digital print-maker
Bill Luke – Painter
Peter Cook – Poet
Wen Llewellyn – Painter
Myles Broad – Sculptor
Tai Snaith – Ceramicist
Laelie Berzon – Painter
Ben Carroll – Sculptor
Hugh Ramage – Painter
Helen Lovett – Painter of miniatures
Marita Lillie – Video installation / Photographer
Heath Newman – Painter
Cathy Quinn – Painter
Pam Wettenhall – Sculptor
William McKinnon – Painter
Will Salter – Documentary Photographer