'Field Work' – Yanny
just been to see Yanny Petters. She and her husband Tony
live in a cosy, timber cottage that was once a cow house
right beside the old stone farmhouse she grew up in near
Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. I didn't notice it driving in, on
another day of heavy rain, in what feels like an apocalyptic
summer, but her house faces the Sugarloaf mountain. On my
way out, the rain has cleared and I am startled by its bulk,
looming behind a field of crinkle-fleeced sheep.
And I am less dispirited, a little
comforted. Yanny has been looking closely at nature for many
years now. She sees whole worlds in a ditch or a meadow or a
bog then gently taps us on the shoulder and shows them to us
too. The depth of her attention to the natural world is
amazing to us but not to her because she is amazed by what
she sees. Endless diversity, one source.
She shows us the beauty and strangeness
of wild places, the miraculous systems and methods that
underlie their apparent disorder.
Her portraits reveal a tender,
meticulous observation of her subjects - yellow irises,
bulrushes on their ramrod stalks, dusky-pink reeds so real
you can almost hear the dry whoosh they make when the wind
blows. And they are portraits in the real sense - she is
after their essence, just as a portraitist tries to capture
the personality of their sitter.
She told me that she begins at the
roots and the painting grows from there. It is hardly
surprising, given her empathy for plants that her method is
also organic, a mirror of their growth process.
There is a long tradition of botanic
drawing and painting. The natural world has been fascinating
and delighting people for aeons. Yanny is part of that
tradition and yet her work is unique because she brings so
much of her own spirit to it - her appreciation of the
wonder of leaf and grass, flower and stem, leads to
Now more than ever we need this. We
have destroyed so much, but there is still much to enjoy. At
last, at long last, we are beginning to wake up, beginning
to realise that we must pay attention. And Yanny's work
helps us to do that.
September 6th 2008