Light in Shadowed Days: Sarah Knox at Dawyck Botanic Garden

Sarah Knox, 'Sanctuary', watercolour
Sarah Knox, 'Sanctuary', watercolour

Sarah Knox: Lost Worlds

10:00 - 16:00

From: 30 Aug 2021

To: 30 Nov 2021

Dawyck Botanic Garden
Stobo, near Peebles
Scottish Borders
EH45 9JU

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During the surreal experience of lockdown last year, Sarah Knox continued being creative, sketching outdoors around Edinburgh at the Royal Botanic and Malleny Gardens, Arthur’s Seat, the Firth of Forth, and finally this summer, a trip to the Highlands and Islands. 

Sarah Knox sketching en plein air, North End beach, Iona
Sarah Knox sketching ‘en plein air’, North End beach, Iona

Following the pioneering approach of the French Impressionists, Sarah specialises in painting en plein-air to observe the changing light and weather. “When I’m outside with a sketchbook balanced on my lap and the materials at my feet, I relax and produce magical and fluid images of the landscape. My theme of ‘Lost Worlds’ emerged because of my reduced boundaries during lockdown.” – Sarah Knox

Sarah Knox, 'In the fold of a Green Hill', oil on gesso
‘In the Fold of a Green Hill’, oil on gesso

The light-filled Studio gallery at Dawyck Botanic Garden is the ideal space to show her Scottish landscapes. A miniature painting quickly caught the eye – In the Fold of a Green Hill, its undulating layers of meadow, river and heather-clad hill all bathed in the dying light of dusk. The blended shades of emerald, azur, tobacco, coral pink with a snowy streak of white is so atmospheric. 

Sarah Knox, 'Sanctuary', watercolour
‘Sanctuary’, watercolour

Sarah often visited her neighbour’s peaceful garden to sketch last year and captured this glimmering, golden scene, Sanctuary. Beneath the bare skeletal tree, the empty chair indicates the absence of someone who was sitting there, their ghostly silhouette lingering in the shadows.

Sarah Knox, 'Light Washes over the Distance', oil on primed paper
‘Light Washes over the Distance’, oil on primed paper

The broad panoramic scene in Light Washes over the Distance immerses the viewer close-up into the landscape near Ullapool. Here is the rugged terrain of stones, sandy shore, tufts of grass as we follow the curve of the river towards the isolated trees and misty mountains under the glower of a murky sky.    

Sarah Knox, 'Distant Colonsay', watercolour
‘Distant Colonsay’, watercolour

With free-flowing, calligraphic style, Distant Colonsay is a sketchy abstract in sage green and grey to depict the fluidity of waves, island shore and rain clouds. This soft shimmer of a seascape is like a lyrical Haiku, the minimalist Japanese verses which traditionally evoke the natural world.

Sarah Knox, 'On the Rim of the World', oil on canvas
‘On the Rim of the World’, oil on canvas

Taking centre-stage in the gallery is a majestic viewpoint, On the Rim of the World which features a lake fringed by a forest of trees and jagged peaks beyond. This frozen land of snow and ice, reminiscent of Norwegian fjords or Glacier valley, South Patagonia, is now melting in global-warming watery drips. The location is not given – it is up to the viewer to suggest where this may be or is it a fantasy, lost world of the imagination.

Sarah Knox, 'Forest Shadow, Dawyck', watercolour
‘Forest Shadow, Dawyck’, watercolour

After an invigorating stroll around Dawyck Garden, a few illustrations of the wild woodland can be viewed in the Gallery: Forest Shadow, Dawyck is a vivid, vivacious splash of a watercolour where the fine details of leaves and branches shine through. 

Sarah Knox, 'Poet, Dawyck', oil on canvas
‘Poet, Dawyck’, oil on canvas

In contrast, the dappled texture and botanical tones in Poet, Dawyck are artistically created like a tapestry woven in wool.

Sarah Knox painting en plein air 'There I Feel Free', oil on primed paper
Sarah Knox painting en plein air ‘There I Feel Free’, oil on primed paper

In July this year, Sarah was able to head off to Loch Broom, a welcome escape from the city and lockdown to paint the aptly titled, There I Feel Free. You can see how her thick brushstrokes create a layered luminosity across sky and water with impressionistic effect.   

Sarah Knox is fascinated by the liminal sense of space, time and place in her art, the boundary between reality and memory. While these landscapes are painted outdoors, back in her studio Sarah may experiment further to enhance the dramatic mood, pattern of light and natural colours as observed on location.

These are just a few highlights in this showcase of magical, masterly landscapes so do visit Dawyck Garden for a painterly journey around tranquil gardens, glens, islands and seashore illuminated with such expressive, poetic vision. 

* In the hills of the Scottish Borders, Dawyck Botanic Garden is renowned for its seasonal displays of rhododendrons, blue poppies and golden Autumn colours. With a continental climate of warm dry summers followed by cold, snowy winters, there are plants from Europe, China, Nepal, Japan and North America.

As I don’t drive, Sarah Knox very kindly drove us to Dawyck Botanic Garden for her Meet the Artist event so that I could write this review of these magical, majestic landscapes. This is the perfect season to visit the ‘Lost Worlds’ exhibition and also enjoy a walk amidst the golden leaves.

With special thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.

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