In the studio with gardenscape artist Karl Maughan

Despite a more than 30-year career painting his distinctive and much-loved gardenscapes, celebrated Wellington artist Karl Maughan says it’s a style he’s never felt like straying from, describing flowers as his artistic ‘language’.

Photography by Tobias Kraus

On a warm spring morning in his Wellington studio, Karl Maughan is working on his latest painting for an upcoming exhibition at Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery. The show coincides with the release of a new book, Karl Maughan, edited by Hannah Valentine and Gabriella Stead. It’s the first dedicated to his life and long-standing career.

“The paintings are based on Monet’s garden at Giverny, but set in New Zealand,” he says. “So native New Zealand flowers, trees, gardens and hills, but working from a lot of the plant structure and form of Monet’s garden, using photographs from various trips there.”

Unlike the reclusive Monet, Maughan is a social artist, happy to talk as he paints and often welcoming his friends and family to stop by the studio while he works. He goes on to describe the process of his current work, explaining how he likes to collaborate. “I work on the principle of getting the background done, then all the leaves in, then working the flowers in, then the leaves back over,” he says. “Right now, I’m starting with some blue sky and darker green. A friend comes in to help me block it all, so I’m just figuring out what I want to paint next.”

In a way, Maughan’s pathway into gardenscapes was laid out for him. His father painted in his spare time; his mother was a talented horticulturist and landscape designer. It was on a road trip in the 1980s that a young Maughan found the inspiration for his works, stopping by his parents’ home to take photographs of his mother’s garden.

‘Aro Valley’ (1999), 2285 x 2590mm, oil on canvas, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

“The time of year was dead winter, so the garden was stripped out, things torn out, waiting for spring to arrive. I thought, ‘that’s interesting. The photos of his mother’s wintry garden represent a very different picture to the gardens Maughan, now known for his grand, visceral and blossoming gardenscapes, would go on to paint.

After studying at Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts under the tutelage of Dick Frizzell, he took off to London to mingle with fellow expat artists, where awards and a discovery by famous art collector Charles Saatchi propelled him into prominence. Now regarded as one of New Zealand’s best-known garden painters, Maughan says it’s a style he’s never felt like straying from, describing flowers as his artistic ‘language’.

With hundreds of paintings to his name, what is it about gardens that fascinate him so much? “With real-life gardens, you have the ability to pull a plant out, trim it down, make it how you want. But only up to a point, because nature always fights back,” he says. “When you’re painting gardens, you can do anything. Take out that giant tree, or put a pond in. I can literally do whatever I like and not be restricted by the image. That’s the fun aspect of painting.” The history of gardens is another aspect of the subject matter that deepens his obsession. “There’s a huge history that you’re tapping into when you look at the works. There’s this whole tapestry of what a garden is to people. It goes right back to the practice of fencing off the forest and making something inside that is safe and idyllic.”

Straying inevitably to talk of the pandemic, Maughan says the country’s response is, in some way, a modern reflection of this desire to fence ourselves off from danger and create spaces of safety. “New Zealand has literally done just that with the COVID-19 barrier. It’s amazing in its own way.”

As much as he is drawn to the romance of gardens, Maughan is also fascinated by the uneasiness that finds its way into the frame – what he describes as ‘menace’. “It’s the feeling that the colours are a little too intense, the lighting somewhat unrealistic, that something is hidden behind the beauty. It’s a funny thing,” says Maughan, describing the ‘looming-ness’ of some of the paintings. “Sometimes it just looks so beautiful, you think, ‘What is around that corner? What’s lurking?’”

‘Plume Poppies’ (1987), triptych, each panel 2000 x 1000mm, oil on canvas, private collection

As curator Gregory O’Brien describes it in the last chapter of the book, Maughan’s paintings illustrate the belief that “beauty must be tempered with oddness”. It’s a notion that the artist delights in. “It’s a great thing to have this slightly scary, stray presence that you can’t quite put your finger on.”

Maughan works on several paintings at once and each one typically takes just one to two weeks to finish. As his career has evolved, his gardenscapes have intensified, evident in their brighter colours, deeper pigments, as well as the energy of his brushstrokes.

In 2002, a scare with an eye tumour that threatened his vision was one catalyst for this renewed celebration of brightness, colour and depth. “I felt lucky to get through [the surgery], and subsequently enjoyed diving into colour and trying to evoke every kind of emotion with paint. I love eliciting that feeling of being able to climb into the painting, to wander around in the frame and discover what’s behind something,” he says.

Looking back at his more than three decades-long career, Maughan admits he is a more self-assured painter than in his early days. “I used to angst and worry, now I’m more confident,” he says. He’s quick to add, however, that it’s the small failures along the way that keep the work interesting.

“It’ll surprise you. Something might not work and you’ll have to scrape it off and try something else. But one of the delights of painting is that it’s not foolproof.”

Originally published in December 2020. 

How to choose a signature scent for your home

You will have heard of wearing a signature scent,  but have you ever considered designating one for your home? 

Using home fragrance is a way to extend interior decor to the senses and incite a positive memory people connect with your personal spaces.  Home is where special memories are formed, and in turn smells have the ability to trigger strong recollections.

It’s also a beautiful way to reinforce the vibe and intention of each area of your home with a unique scent story. By associating a scent with each room in your house, you’re creating a more memorable experience for the people who visit them, including yourself!

Fragrance brand Jo Malone London is well known for its evocative colognes, but did you know its best-selling scents like Lime Basil & Mandarin and Wood Sage & Sea Salt are available in a number of options to scent interior spaces too?

The range includes candles, diffusers, room sprays and linen sprays, each offering a scent that lingers just enough without being overwhelming.

A scene-setting gift

The Lime Basil & Mandarin range of home, cologne and body products. 

While perfume can be tricky to choose for another person, selecting a home fragrance is the perfect gift, particularly for the house-proud aesthete.

Gifting an elegant candle or chic diffuser is an easy option for a wide range of occasions and personality types. From marking a birthday to acknowledging a host, or a simple thank you, there’s nothing more appropriate than a home scent, perfectly housed in one of Jo Malone London’s unmistakable cream and black ribbon gift-wrapped boxes.

If there’s a special mother in your life, the enduring home scents are a no-brainer gift for Mother’s Day that will make you look like you’ve actually put in quite a lot of effort in indeed!

The options are exciting, but where to start? It’s well worth taking the advice of Jo Malone London scent ‘stylists’ at your nearest Jo Malone London boutique. They offer world of knowledge about each fragrance’s profile and how to make the most of each of the items in the cologne, bath & body and home ranges.

What’s more, taking a leaf from the brand’s penchant for scent-pairing, there’s potential for giving the gift of something really unique by selecting two types of products from the home range to use together at the same time.

Learn how to scent your home 

The Wood Sage & Sea Salt range of home, cologne and body products. 

If you are short on time staff are quick with fitting suggestions, but making the most of one of the free personalised consultation services at the boutique’s central table is where you’ll really delight in what’s possible. There are a number of consultation services on offer but if you’re looking for interior guidance, the ‘Scent your home’ approach will take you though a number of selections that best suit the environment you’re looking to enhance.

Its where you’ll learn the bright and welcoming Lime, Basil & Mandarin is perfect for an entryway,  Peony & Blush Suede creates a perfect lavish, yet serene ambiance in a bathroom or dressing room and rich and cosy notes  such as Myrrh & Tonka are ideal in a lounge.

Britomart Store Manager Maz Nathasingh extends these ideas with options from the new Townhouse ceramic candle collection, (only at Jo Malone London Britomart Boutique and Ballantynes Christchurch), inspired by different rooms in an iconic London residence. 

“‘Glowing Embers’ smells like a burning log fire so it’s good in the living room,” says Nathasingh. “If you want a more opulent scent, perhaps for a party, you could try it mixed with Pomegranate Noir in either a diffuser, a room scent or another candle burning side-by-side.”

Jo Malone London’s new Townhouse collection of candles that includes (L-R) Lilac Lavender & Lovage, Wild Berry & Bramble, Glowing Embers, Fresh Fig & Cassis, Pastel Macaroons and Green Tomato Vine. (Only at Jo Malone London Britomart Boutique and Ballantynes Christchurch) 

For the kitchen, Nathasingh recommends fragrances with fresh notes that will combine well with cooking aromas.

“’Green Tomato Vine’ is best in the kitchen. If you have other fragrances while you’re cooking, it can clash, but this will complement the herbs in the kitchen and other scents,” she explains. “Or  ‘Pastel Macaroons’ reminds you of beautiful baking.” 

In the bedroom, Nathasingh suggests something calming to soothe you to sleep. “’Lilac Lavender & Lovage’ is perfect,” she says.

You can combine home scents by having two candles, or having a diffuser and then adding the scent of a candle. 

“It just depends how you want to switch up the mood,” advises Nathasingh. “If you have a diffuser and candle combination, the diffuser will be the general scent of your room, but if you want to switch it up for a specific mood, that’s when you’d light the scented candle.” 

The diffusers emit scent for around 4-5 months, while a home candle has an expected burn time of around 45 hours.