"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom"
Marcel Proust, XII, Les Plaisirs et les Jours.
It is April 10th. Early morning. Time for our daily walk. We have been in quarantine after a family member caught the coronavirus and depressed after a young friend died of the virus. But now we are out again. Out in the garden and out on our neighbouring streets. The sun is out, too. The light is bright and clear. The birds sing louder than ever. The rumble of the city has reduced to a murmur. The dirty air is fresher and cleaner than before. The sky is an intense blue, not even broken by the sight or sound of an aeroplane, and everywhere there is blossom.
This year the blossom has a particular intensity. The pinks are at their most pink. The whites, tinged with yellow, are at their frothiest. Never has blossom seemed so abundant and never have I appreciated it so much.
Our language is filled with metaphors derived from nature: a blossoming friendship, a budding romance, a late flowering. This is the joyful world inhabited by Derrick Greaves's latest work. It has a spring in its step. It is abundant, bountiful. Lush vases of flowers and bowls over-flowing with voluptuous fruit fill his work over seven decades. There are roses, sweet pea, irises. But never has the blossom that fills these new works appeared so special.
There is comfort in nature at a time of stress. During the first Gulf War, Derrick painted his great series of Shanghai La - a fantastic, colour-saturated paradise of vegetation - and appropriately he recently turned one of these sunny, radiant images into a beautiful new tapestry. Appropriately, too, over the last year Greaves has returned to nature for solace. This time the spur was national rather than international conflict and in particular the ways in which fighting over Brexit has divided the nation and seems destined to rupture the fabric of our United Kingdom. But the timing of this latest show also gives the work a new resonance.
Great art is rooted in time but also transcends it. But in being of its time it may also accrue meanings that move beyond the intentions of its maker to resonate with the concerns of its audience. Giacometti was already sculpting etiolated figures but this personal quirk became an existential symbol after the horrors of the Second World War. Similarly, Greaves's latest paintings of blossom now possess a new significance.
Throughout history spring has been the time to come out of hibernation after the long dark days of window. But this year it has coincided with lock-down, one walk a day, essential trips only. Going for a walk, shopping, talking to friends - never have such banal activities been so treasured and never before has the blossom appeared more beautiful. Greaves's achievement in these beautiful new paintings is to remind us that with the blossom of spring comes new hope.