Country Style - - GARDEN CESSNOCK NSW -

Philip Drum­mond is no stranger to the thrill of a blank can­vas. So, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that he was in­spired when oth­ers might have been daunted at the prospect of trans­form­ing a bare and com­pacted work site into a spec­tac­u­lar gar­den. “There was not a stick on it, but I think the ad­van­tage was to have a com­pletely bare block,” Philip re­calls. “It gave me the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing from the very begin­ning and I had a plan in my head of what I wanted.” The vi­sion be­gan in 2009 when the painter and his part­ner, con­tem­po­rary artist Dani Marti, bought the 1000-square-me­tre block in Cess­nock, on the doorstep of Hunter Val­ley wine coun­try. The pair were taken with its two large, triple-brick her­itage build­ings that Philip says were beg­ging to be turned into studios, and within a year they had con­verted the derelict for­mer gen­eral store and butcher into their home and workspace. The two build­ings stand at ei­ther end of the block and look within, cre­at­ing a large, cen­tral space that was a con­ve­nient work site dur­ing con­struc­tion and has since flour­ished into an ex­otic, pri­vate gar­den with sev­eral “rooms” to ex­plore. Sur­rounded by high walls cov­ered with neatly trimmed bougainvil­lea and filled with cacti, palms and suc­cu­lents, you could be for­given for think­ing you were in Palm Springs or the Mediter­ranean — both ma­jor in­flu­ences on Philip’s de­sign. “It’s also the Span­ish tra­di­tion of hav­ing an in­te­rior pa­tio,” he notes. “It’s great be­cause you use it like a liv­ing space, you don’t use it like a gar­den. In pre­vi­ous gar­dens, I’ve had, which were more tra­di­tional in their lay­out, the gar­den was some­thing you had to go and visit, whereas in this one you can’t avoid it, you have to go and live it.” Philip’s in­ter­est in cacti was first sparked at his pre­vi­ous home where, he says, it was the only thing that would grow in their sun-drenched hill­top po­si­tion. He brought many plants with him from that home, al­low­ing him to cre­ate an al­most in­stant gar­den in the new and just as sunny space. “The only trou­ble is if you’re work­ing in it, you can’t get out of this gar­den with­out some kind of lac­er­a­tion!” Philip laughs. “It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re wear­ing a big boiler suit, you end up finding a spike some­where.” The gar­den has grown sub­stan­tially in the past nine years, but Philip is im­pa­tient to see it in another 10. “It will be spec­tac­u­lar then,” he says. “There are some fast-grow­ing >

plants, but a lot of them are re­ally slow and the vi­sion I have is of tow­er­ing cacti. I want the path that winds through the gar­den to be walled by cacti as you walk through it, so it’s more of an ad­ven­ture.” While the gar­den of­fers a rich vis­ual feast and a ther­a­peu­tic respite from his work, it doesn’t fea­ture in Philip’s paint­ings. In­stead, the artist is cur­rently fo­cus­ing on Aus­tralian na­tives, weav­ing them into his sig­na­ture dra­matic and earthy still-life com­po­si­tions that ref­er­ence 17th cen­tury Span­ish classics. “I’ve spent the past 30 years trav­el­ling around the out­back, so there’s a real con­nec­tion with Australia,” he ex­plains. “I en­joy putting those flow­ers in the con­text of a Span­ish-style paint­ing. I’ve got a re­ally good sup­plier of na­tive flow­ers on the Cen­tral Coast, so I try to make a visit there ev­ery few weeks and spend lots of money! She gets a lot of West Aus­tralian flow­er­ing eu­ca­lypts, in par­tic­u­lar, which are re­ally dif­fi­cult to get over this side.” A self-taught artist, Philip has been ex­hibit­ing pro­fes­sion­ally for 25 years, but his drive to con­tinue evolv­ing and fine-tun­ing his skills hasn’t waned since he first started paint­ing as a wide-eyed 21-year-old, ea­gerly doc­u­ment­ing his trav­els through In­dia. “I like the fact that there’s still a lot to learn,” he muses. “You can’t sit back on your last great show or your last great paint­ing, you’ve just got to keep pro­duc­ing the work.” That mo­ti­va­tion to pro­duce and evolve keeps Philip busy in the stu­dio and on the road — which is partly why he opted for a low-main­te­nance, drought-tol­er­ant gar­den. It’s when he has more time on his hands that he finds him­self tin­ker­ing. He swaps plants in and out, such as the frangi­pa­nis and Banksia robur he’s re­cently in­stalled, and tweaks the de­sign, like re­mov­ing one last to­ken patch of lawn around the pool in favour of flag­stone and plants. “It is like an art­work,” he ad­mits. “A gar­den is some­thing that evolves and you’re sculpt­ing it the whole time.” The other, most im­por­tant rea­son for this unique oa­sis? Pure beauty. The gar­den might not ap­pear on Philip’s can­vases, but it plays an in­te­gral role in his cre­ative process all the same. “It helps me to live and cre­ate in my own lit­tle uni­verse,” he says. “It’s what I look at when I’m look­ing out of my stu­dio. On a sub­lim­i­nal level, it af­fects ev­ery­thing.” Philip Drum­mond’s next solo exhibitions will be held at Maun­sell Wickes Gallery in Sydney from March 1st-15th (maun­sell­, and Gal­lows Gallery in Perth from June 14th (gal­lows­

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