Regent’s Park happenings of Plath, Dickens, Woolf and Eliot brought to life through art

plus her painting Sylvia 2010

plus her painting Sylvia 2010 - Credit: Archant

Plath, Dickens, Woolf, Eliot and Stevie Smith are among the authors who have written either in or about Regent’s Park. Now Hampstead artist Sarah Pickstone has compiled a book that brings together her paintings of the Royal Park with the writings that inspired them.

by Sarah Pickstone

by Sarah Pickstone - Credit: Archant

The mother of three, who studied at the Royal Academy School of Art, says: “I have been drawing in Regent’s Park for a long time, ever since my kids were little and I lived in Camden. When they were younger, the kids got used to being taken there. I would start drawing, they would want to go to the playground and I would say no.

“Now they are older, I increasingly use it as somewhere to draw and for a sense of place, especially if I am feeling isolated in my studio or a bit stuck.

“It’s the place I always go back to and I think lots of Londoners use it that way. It’s everybody’s garden.”

It was during one of her sojourns in the park cafe that Pickstone bought a booklet containing a short story by Ali Smith.

The Definite Article referenced other writers who had worked in Regent’s Park, which inspired Pickstone to paint a picture Elizabeth Barrett Browning Stealing Mistletoe from the park.

“It was Ali Smith who inspired the book. Life needs those little catalysts, it alluded to the enormous number of people who had written there and that took me back to the literature and gave it a framework. You need to have another element than your own imagination – I started painting lots of other work.”

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Pickstone emailed a jpeg of her painting to Smith as a Christmas card. She came round to her studio near Angel and promptly bought it. The pair are now friends.

Another park-inspired work – Stevie Smith and the Willow – went on to win the John Moores Painting Prize, yet another depicts George Eliot who wrote her masterpiece Middlemarch while living in a house in Regent’s Park and another shows Virginia Woolf reading next to the lake.

Pickstone, whose work hangs in the Saatchi Collection and the Walker Art Gallery, says she likes the idea of serendipitous connections between people, places and ideas, of communal creativity in a natural space and of “artists borrowing from other artists, making a nod to other people’s sources”.

“I like the order of Regent’s Park, compared to the Heath – and the anonymity of it. It’s like a painting, compositionally put together it has an incredible history a sense of definition. Of nature on the edge of the city.

“All the paintings are specific to a certain place in the park. All use natural elements: perhaps a sliver birch in moonlight, a leaf or park bench or a triton in the middle of the garden – but abstracted – I am not a landscape painter nor interested in representing the park literally.”

The distinctive anthology of essays, stories and poems includes work by contemporary writers Marina Warner, Olivia Laing, Iain Sinclair and Jackie Kay, as well as evocative extracts from writers of the past such as Plath, Angela Carter and Smith.

Interwoven themes, says Pickstone, include “the importance of creative spaces, reinvention, rebirth. The creative process and the difficulty of making stuff”.

Park Notes is out now, published by Daunt Books, priced £16.99.