Lynda Hallinan: outdoor art
Lynda Hallinan follows the lead of the heir to the throne and plants a little artistic fun in her garden.
It’s one of my favourite old photos: a fuzzy portrait of my sister, Brenda, and me, circa 1979, taken at Punakaiki’s famous Pancake Rocks on our first family holiday to the South Island. Brenda is wearing a particularly fetching homespun suit of burgundy corduroy paired with a cream polo neck, while I’m acting the goat. Literally. I’m grinning like a goon from behind a place-your-face tourist billboard of a mountain goat, my head sporting a fine set of corkscrew horns like those prized by trophy hunters and taxidermists.
Also known as tintamarresques or paste-your-face standees, these old-school cartoon cut-outs were once as popular at scenic attractions as dressing up in Victorian garb for a dour black and white portrait. The effect was intended to be comedic, as your head was transplanted onto the body of a buxom babe in a retro polka dot bikini or a gun-swinging cowboy caricature with a Stetson and leather chaps.
Children can’t resist posing for a silly snap in a tintamarresque and, more than 35 years after I first stuck my head through that painted mountain goat, neither can I. In fact, when my husband and I took our son, Lucas, on his first family trip to the South Island, we held him up and took a slapstick shot of him in the Mongo the Strongo cut-out at Founders Heritage Park in Nelson, his cherubic cheeks appearing above a cartoon mash-up of Popeye’s bulging biceps, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rippled abs and Bamm-Bamm
Rubble’s orange and black spotted undies. (After all, it’s every parent’s prerogative to seek out photo opportunities that can be used later to embarrass their offspring at their 21st party.)
The only thing better than posing in a tintamarresque at a tourist attraction? Painting your own at home. In November, when I opened my garden for the Franklin Hospice garden ramble, I decided to give our guests a giggle by commissioning an artist friend, Lindsay Eller, to paint a plywood panel paying homage to Grant Wood’s famous 1930 painting, American Gothic, of a pitchforktoting farmer and his wife standing in front of an Iowa house.
During the hospice ramble, we invited visitors to pose for a souvenir picture and while most – especially the kids – were immediately game to goof about, others appeared to have no sense of humour. “Why would I do that?” asked one po-faced woman of a certain vintage. “Because it’s fun!” said Lindsay. “If you’re 12 years old,” replied our visitor, snippily.
But who says there has to be a statute of limitations on taking the mickey out of yourself? Medical research confirms that a jolly good guffaw is really good for you – it relieves stress, stimulates your heart and lungs, gives you a natural hit of endorphins, burns calories and eases muscle tension, making you feel happy and more relaxed. I reckon it’s our civic duty to make others laugh, or at least crack a smile, and garden art is as good a way as any to unleash some personality in your outdoor environs.
When I think of all the gardens I’ve visited over the years, here and overseas, it’s often the quirky and kitsch, rather than the fancy and flash, that struck a chord. Like the time, a decade ago at a garden festival in Bilbao, Spain, I came across a crop of
oversized copper umbrellas on giant bamboo poles on a street corner. “I sometimes feel as if umbrellas grow like mushrooms when it rains in my city,” explained artist Jose Ibarrola.
When we open our garden for charity events, our neighbours generously lend us their front sheep paddock for parking as our house is at the end of a long, tree-lined driveway. It’s a gentle stroll but a fairly dull one, so last winter I commissioned Auckland graffiti artist Jonny 4Higher to let rip with his spray cans on the haybarn halfway up the driveway. The brief was pretty open: “Just pimp my barn,” I said, and he did, with a vintage-styled Foggydale Farm hoarding featuring one of our briskety brown Limousin cattle and the children’s pet lamb, Pebble.
In my vegetable garden, I have a pair of much photographed life-sized plaster hares (they used to work as rabbit-repelling decoys but the bunnies appear to have wised up this year), while the concrete sheep grazing in my herb garden, from Coromandel artist Gary Nevin, add a touch of whimsy.
Fifteen years ago, I was invited to visit the garden at Highgrove,
Prince Charles’ private residence in Gloucestershire. It remains, without a doubt, the best garden I’ve ever been to. Not just because of the history and heritage – including the fruit trees given to Charles and Diana as a wedding gift, and the treehouse where Princes William and Harry played as children – nor because of its horticultural brilliance, with meadows of rare bulbs, a walled vegetable garden and a stumpery populated with New Zealand-bred hostas, but because of Charles’ quirky taste in garden ornament. As well as the obligatory Italian statuary and expensive antique urns (a gift from the King of Spain), I spotted a fairy ring of lifelike wooden mushrooms sprouting in the leaf litter in his woodland.
If it’s good enough for the future King of England to have a little fun in the garden, then it’s good enough for me.
FAR LEFT: Lynda and artist Lindsay Eller in the tintamarresque panel painted by Lindsay. LEFT: The favourite childhood snap of Lynda and her sister Brenda.
ABOVE LEFT: Lynda commissioned graffiti artist Jonny 4Higher to smarten up the barn. RIGHT: Lucas and Lachlan measure their height on the outdoor ruler.