(Anna Airy, Verdure and Decay, watercolour and pen and ink, first exhibited 1956; from Sarah Colegrave Fine Art)
As is so often my wont, I have been absent from the internets for the last few weeks due to masses of work. But I am still here! So I thought I would share with you this picture by Anna Airy (1882–1964). I like this picture because I find it both beautiful and sinister. Feeding on the dead allows life to continue, it’s part of the natural world, but this is something artists do too, they take the art of previous generations and absorb it, react to it, create something new with it. Yet the plants which are flourishing are a little creepy, the lords and ladies is poisonous as may be the fungus; the thistle is spiky and aggressive. The dead plant is a tree, and trees are often considered ‘noble’. (Maybe I’m reading too much into this?!)
Airy was a fine etcher, watercolourist and portrait painter, although these days she is perhaps best known as one of the first women war artists, painting interior views of munitions factories during the First World War. This was apparently more difficult and dangerous than you might think – according to the Imperial War Museum, when painting A Shell Forge... (below), ‘on one occasion the heat of the ground became so intense that her shoes were burnt off her feet’. And perhaps Verdure and Decay, created so many years later, can also be read as a sort of war painting? There may be a suggestion that post-war British society owed its survival to those who had died in the Second World War.
(Anna Airy, A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London, 1918; Imperial War Museum, London; © IWM (Art.IWM ART 4032))