Nick Pelling meets local artist Daisy Clarke and finds in her work gardens of earthly delight – just round the corner from Lidl.

Imagine a magical world without men. A world in which mysterious female figures commune with birds. Welcome to the odd world of the successful local artist Daisy Clarke. Her painted scenes hover between the serene, the sinister and the surreal. 

Daisy was born in Peckham but for several years now she has lived in St Leonards. In some ways, however, her artistic imagination is not rooted in a particular post code. Her work seems to be about creating other worlds: magical gardens not in our time frame and not necessarily welcoming. Looking at the works, one feels almost like a voyeur, peeping at someone else’s intimate dream. Or perhaps we are catching a glimpse of a story but, disarmingly, we have no idea what the plot is.  

Part of the peculiarity stems from Daisy‘s method of working. She describes this as being a bit “magpie-like,” in that she collects striking images and delves into them as the mood takes her. Or as the barometer dips. As a result, her work seems to be almost historical; but just as you wonder if this
is Renaissance Venice or an Elizabethan garden, the weirdness seeps through again. We are not being placed anywhere temporally specific.

Instead, we have been let into a world somewhere between dreams and nightmares. The prevalence of birds is also rather striking. It would be tempting to read off something about the symbolism of birds. But, Daisy’s birds are not avian emojis. Owls do not equal wisdom: they equal the strangeness of being an owl: the essence of owlishness. The birds, like the women, exist just slightly beyond our logic. There is perhaps even a sense of witches and their familiars. Daisy has six cats, which may or may not be relevant. Her own garden is a little wild: badgers pop by in the same moonlight that illuminates some of her work.

If one were looking to place Daisy’s work within recognisable categories, I suspect one might see her as a surrealist. In the tradition of rebel female surrealists stretching back to Leonora Carrington or the Spanish artist Remedios Varo. The latter’s famous comment that she was, “on second thoughts, crazier than my goat,” perhaps captures some of the perverse spirit in Daisy’s work. And there are also hints of medieval bizarreness, such as in the writhing visions of Hieronymus Bosch. It surely takes an amazing potency of imagination to find the gardens of earthly delight round the corner from Lidl.     

The absence of men in her work is notable. Daisy believes that this is in part a “reflection of a feminist outlook” but the work is not overtly or obviously political. Female nudes hang around in leafy glades but not for the benefit of impending princes. The work obeys other rules, although no one is quite sure what those rules are. Daisy actually highly values uncertainty. She welcomes the “happy accident” in painting, or what Brian Eno once called the artist’s “hidden intentions.” One does not have to be a Freudian to know that the unconscious mind thinks its own thoughts.

Daisy freely admits that her titles offer few clues. Her painting of a curious Quakerish woman with a greenish bird, for example, is starkly entitled Woman with Bird. One is inevitably left just wondering. Who is that woman? What is the bird thinking? What is it all about, Daisy? Judging by its relaxed demeanour, the only being who knows the answers to these questions is Daisy’s big blue-eyed cat. And that is probably as it should be.

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