Hamilton Spectator

Alison Sawatzky is an avid gardener who loves to paint. Her two loves unite in The Glory of the Garden, a gorgeous exhibition at the Dundas Museum and Archives. “In addition to delighting the senses, gardens to me are places of meditation, satisfying labour, peace and refuge,” she says. “This show was an opportunity to revel in gardens for almost a year.”

Sawatzky, 58, who lives in Dundas, has been exhibiting in solo and group shows for more than 20 years. She’s tackled a variety of subjects including landscapes and abstracts. She is working on a series of sky phenomena paintings for a show in May.

But it’s her garden paintings that flourish in this exhibition. Her style is loosely lifelike and big on colour and pattern. Sometimes she paints her flowers among human-made structures; other times, she lets the flowers take over the pictorial space.

In “Hydrangeas, Rock Garden,” an acrylic, blue and white flowers grow on either side of stone steps that wind their way upward. Sawatzky crops the scene, letting us imagine where the steps begin and end. The blooms are painted as soft-edge rounded shapes. Bits of yellow paint on the steps suggest sunlight.

Sawatzky finds inspiration in her own garden, other Dundas gardens and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

“I paint in situ, from photographs, from memory, and from the imagination,” she tells me. “For this show, I based much of my work on photographs I had taken during the garden season since I knew I would be working on a good portion of it during the fall and winter months.

“While some of the works are direct representations of the photos I had taken, others are a synthesis of several reference photos, or purely works of the imagination.”

“Echinacea and Bee Balm” is an imaginary take on her own garden. “I have both those flowers growing together in a delightful hodgepodge in part of the garden. When I did the work, I had just come in from sitting on the deck enjoying the view of that particular part of the garden. I felt inspired, got out the paints, and my various scrapers and palette knives, and got to work.” A lively, irregular pattern of blooms, stems and leaves in mauves, reds and greens with yellow highlights fill the space. The surface is highly textured, the result of painting with oil.

“I enjoy switching among various media because I find it helps me to see a theme or subject different ways,” she says. “I find oils to be particularly effective for impressionist or impasto works. Their malleability and slower drying time lend themselves to my approach to these types of images.”

But “Reflections, RBG,” she says, called for acrylics. “Acrylics are great since they dry quickly and work well when I want to do a work as a series of layers, or need to do a work which requires precision of line.” Tendril-like, almost abstract, shapes in brilliant green and blue dominate, broken occasionally by a bit of pink. The blue of the sky lies at the bottom of the painting.