The New Arcadians - Ian Gardner: The Allotment File and Tour Books

IntroductionTarasque PressCoracle PressIan Gardner: The Allotment File and Tour BooksThe New Arcadian Press
Ian Gardner, the Aar Gorge set: watercolors (A-Z), scratching boards (A-Z), poems (A-Z) and two dummy books, © Dumbarton Oaks
Ian Gardner, the Aar Gorge set: watercolors (A-Z), scratching boards (A-Z), poems (A-Z) and two dummy books © Dumbarton Oaks

Ian Gardner is a dedicated watercolourist who has devoted his life to painting. His consistent touchstone has been the watercolour landscapes of John Sell Cotman (1782–1842), whose graphic modernity remained unappreciated until the early 20th century. Since 1965 Gardner has participated in at least 36 group exhibitions, including those organised by the New Arcadian Press during its first decade, and has enjoyed 22 solo exhibitions (nine of which were in London galleries). His paintings have been bought for at least twenty-five commercial and institutional collections throughout Britain. When studying in Nottingham during the late 1960s, his graphic sensibility had complemented the poetics of Stuart Mills and Simon Cutts and, through them, his small press experience became prodigious: working with the Tarasque Press, collaborating with Ian Hamilton Finlay and Jonathan Williams, as well as co-editing the imprint Blue Tunnel (c. 1970–1980). As a result he became the catalyst in the creation of the New Arcadian venture and, between 1981 and 1986, co-edited with Patrick Eyres a range of publications that dealt with landscape issues through text and image. Over the years he has also worked collaboratively with Edward Lucie-Smith, Edward Mullins, Thomas A. Clarke, Simon Cutts, Alan Eavis and Barrie Marshall.

The Tour Books are graphic equivalents of Gardner's paintings in that they comprise sequential imagery of a place; the Aar Gorge book is characteristic. Among the numerous works produced during the late 1980s in response to Switzerland's Bernese Oberland, it evokes the spectacle of this epic rock crevase gouged out by the millenia's torrents of glacial water. While encompassing the sublimity of the Aar Gorge, it emulates the aesthetic of those early English watercolourists drawn to the Swiss Alps - such as Cozens, Towne and Turner - yet its monochrome fusion of wash and scraperboard drawing articulates the graphic modernity of Gardner's bookworks, which can also be seen in certain editions of the New Arcadian Journal, for example: no. 7, 'Northumbrian Landscapes', no. 18, 'Happy Valley' and no. 21, The Art of Navigation'. The Allotment File encapsulates that period during the 1990s when his wife's allotment garden became the focus of an urban idyll, an uxorious pastoral. Gardner relished the conviviality of the allotment gardening community and both the ambiance and the place inspired paintings, graphic works and the Allotment Journal. This body of work also celebrated return to his home town of Lancaster.

By Patrick Eyres

Select Bibliography

  • Metaphor and Motif, Tarasque Press exhibition catalogue (Nottingham: Midland Group Gallery, 1972).
  • Laura Gascoigne, in The Artist and Illustrator(1977).
  • New Arcadian Press, reviews 1981–1991.
  • Yves Abrioux, Ian Hamilton Finlay, A Visual Primer (London: Reaktion Books, 1992).
  • Pia Simig and Rosemarie Pahlke (eds.), Ian Hamilton Finlay: Prints, 1963–1997 (Ostfildern: Editions Cantz, 1997).
  • Edward Lucie-Smith, Art Today: From Abstract Expressionism to Superrealism (Oxford: Phaidon, 1995) – for discussion of the allotment works.
  • Edward Lucie-Smith, Flora (Ivy Press, 2000).

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