Shot! The three best artworks at the 2021 RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

At the world’s biggest garden show, art came in many forms, all created to enhance the floral landscape.

When one thinks of RHS shows, what first comes to mind are the fabulous gardens and the show-stopping flowers and plants. But these events also include an array of other exhibitors and of these those showing hand-crafted art are the ones I’m especially drawn to.

And this year, following 2020’s cancellation due to Covid, it was perhaps no surprise that it was some familiar names, artists whose work I’ve admired in the past, that got my attention.

The first of those was Suffolk-based sculptor, John O’Connor. Now I’ve regularly photographed John’s work – think for around six years or so. His bronzes have a distinctive style: roughly hewn skeletal human forms with elongated limbs.

Over the years, John has riffed on this concept with both large and small figures, some standing, some kneeling, some even balancing on their head.

Usually, they have their arms outstretched, their faces either looking down to the ground or up to the sky. Sometimes they’re shiny, sometimes they’re matte. All are instantly recognisable as John’s work.

But what caught my attention at Hampton was something I’d not seen from John before: a white, life-size bust of a man.

To me, it was so traditional in its form that it looked like something out of a museum. Indeed, when I first saw it I thought it was Abraham Lincoln. It turns out it was actually a private commission. All I know is it was pretty impressive.

Sharing the stand with John was a very different sculptor. Based in Wales, Matt Maddocks works exclusively in granite. Some are highly polished, some left rough, some combining both finishes. Matt’s hand-carved abstract work are wonderful statement pieces for gardens and landscapes.

The piece that appealed most to me was a ridged circular work with an arch-like opening.

I mentioned that John and Matt shared a stand, what I didn’t say was how much the stylish corten steel backdrops they used enhanced their exhibits. Even though it did not win best trade stand, for me, it was the most attractive at the show.

My third pick was Carrie Anne Funnell, who was responsible for my favourite artworks at this year’s festival.

I’ve photographed Carrie Anne’s kiln-formed fused glasswork before. Every time I see her work, I’m always blown away by her colour palette and the uniqueness of what she does.

I particularly like to find interesting compositions within her pieces, especially focusing on the air bubbles that she captures within her glass.

My favourite piece of hers was a vibrant red swirl, but my ultimate art image from this year’s festival was a shot of one of the glass petals of her water feature.

I hadn’t appreciated quite how good it would photograph, so I’m kicking myself for not getting more images of it.

Behind the shot: All these images were taken handheld either with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 using the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens or with the iPhone 12. Shooting wide at Hampton is never easy because it’s almost impossible to avoid getting ugly white marquees and event signage in the frame. Because of this, my intention was to seek out interesting ultra-tight compositions. Shot at Hampton Court on 5 July 2021.

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. With no concerts or major events taking place during lockdown, Gary turned his attention to creatively capturing the landscapes of West Sussex. On the writing side, he has also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople. Most recently he has written a biography of Robert Palmer. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and interviews with musicians.

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people