I was just thinking…………

…….about the beauty and charm of old things and how I’m so deliciously drawn to them. Give me old world clutter in a lounge room, not minimalist newness; delightful granny-print fabrics, not dubious modern daubs; gorgeous Royal Albert teacups from which to sip my beverages, not cumbersome heavy mugs; soft muslins fluttering at a breezy window, not heavy forbidding stuff you’d be afraid to move for fear of not getting the pleats back the right way; and beckoning, big soft old chairs on great shepherd’s castors, not these funny little square seats with no backs on which to rest your head. Oh I could go on……

But that’s not all I mean by ‘old’ things being charming.

What really takes my breath away is the ‘old’ of the plant life. I embrace all of nature’s cycle, of course – it’s my ‘thing’. But not so much the newness of spring buds, though they’ve been enticing enough for waxing poets since time immemorial; not even the fullness of nature’s ripest climax gets to me the most. No, it’s the awesome, quiet magic of the end of the cycle that really does it for me.
That most dignified beauty that doesn’t brazenly advertise itself the way it did in its youth, that doesn’t burst in your face and demand to be noticed the way it did at the peak of its life. That, in its profound subtlety, commands my notice. That’s what grabs me most. That’s what I love to discover.

A favourite of mine, the Marri, is a great example. The pristine perfection of its new growth is a balm, a promise. All seems right with the world when its fresh creamy blossoms erupt every season followed by bunches and bunches of succulent new ‘honky nuts’ hanging heavily from shiny, supple stems. It’s a sight to make me smile for sure, but my real delight comes from peering deeper into the tree’s foliage. It’s the old bark that I love to study – richly coloured tessellations and marvellous textures. (Whoever thought that tree trunks were brown!)
And then there are the soft, subtle shades of mauves and apricots in last season’s honky nuts, and some old nuts from two years ago will still be hanging in quiet defiance, inviting an interested eye to take in their earthy greys and their brittle battle-scarred coarseness weathered by numerous seasons.
Now we move to the leaves. Being an evergreen like all eucalypts, the Marri is constantly dropping and renewing its foliage - so rich handfuls of beautiful leaves can always be gathered.
Tired of being green and tiring of life, they give their last performance in gorgeous arrays of colour and pattern – an absolute delight to mimic with watercolours. This is what I love to capture, and this is what I urge you to see.

But it’s not only the Marri’s and the Jarrah’s, not only bush flora that holds these dying delights. The plants in our own gardens can give us similar pleasures. Just recently, I was teaching at a student’s house and noticed a dying rose bloom waving gently in the breeze outside the window. Its colours and shapes fascinated me and we stopped work to go and peruse the entire rose garden. To my absolute amazement I discovered a world I’d never ‘seen ‘ before. Though I’d seen the sight of roses in their last throes of life a ‘million’ times, I’d never ‘looked at’ their exquisite beauty. The remaining petals on the dying roses took on a ‘life’ of their own. Although the petals were drying they still held intense hues, and the stamens and sepals altered their tones and textures from smoothest satin to a rich raw silk. We noticed too, that several of the leaves, as they dehydrated from the tips inwards, took on the rich pink colours of the rose petals.
I was so taken with my new discovery that I relieved my student of a large bunch of dead roses and took them to my studio where I embarked on a new concept in painting (for me!). It was a marvellous challenge and I’m quite delighted with the result. I’ll show you one day!

Lori Spencer