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Nurturing wild spaces for creative practice

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

I rent a little studio which sits amid a little patch of grassland, opposite horses fields which are the home to some very elderly horses. It's peaceful. We have the regular hum of a stray fly that comes inside, the occasional call of a pheasant. At lunch time I sit on the grass at the edge of the path, eye-level with the grasses and wildflowers that have grown tall and busy with the movement of insects. It reminds me of the fields that I used to love so much as a child; I used to skip through them and call out the names of all the butterflies (which at that time, I knew with encyclopaedic knowledge).

Anna Masters studio building set amid wild flowers
Anna Masters' studio

Now, resigned to the edge of the path, I don't do any skipping. I love the fields, but the unencumbered joy... it's just not available to me any more. I no longer recall all the names of the butterflies, and I don't feel the need to.

So when people ask me what my floral work is about, I tell them breezily about my time in the fields as a child - the wild flowers, the butterflies - the happiness of it, the nostalgia, the urge to bring those feelings back to the fore. I try to capture the delicacy of the petals, the beauty of the butterflies, the wildness and freeness of those moments. I don't tell them that the work, the process, the ritual of making these works does not come from the joy of them, but from the mourning of them. I mourn the part of me that used to feel this way. It's been said to me many times that it must be beautiful in my head. It is. It's beautiful and sad and everything in between.

I remember an occasion talking to a tutor who was trying to drag out of me exactly what I was trying to reach to in my work. I told her that I wanted to convey the complexity of my emotions towards things. That I was no longer able to feel something to be wholly, straight-forwardly 'good' because every good thing came at the sacrifice of something else. That for every good thing in my life I had something new to mourn.

And if I'm entirely honest, this is what my work is about - the uncomfortable and complicated coexistence of mounting joys and mounting grief: the need to maintain these little moments of beauty for a little while longer because... sometimes the grief weighs heavier than the joy.

Rose petals, rose stems and pebbles in a suspended art installation
Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones by Anna Masters

This installation, Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones, was created shortly after my dad died, and stemmed from the need I had to create something that was beautiful from things that were essentially broken.

Our neighbour - the kind lady who cares for these elderly horses - sometimes offers to cut the grass for us on our little patch of land, and I find myself saying "no, not yet. Let the buttercups die back first". Then of course, out come the oxeye daisies, the grass flowers, the butterflies. And the answer is always "no, not yet". Of course, one day I will have to allow the field to be managed. I'll grieve those little moments of beauty, of spotting the butterflies flit in and out of the grasses, and I'll await the new joys of seeing them take over again next year.

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