Avant Gardener

Named ‘the Damien Hirst of horticulture’ by the Independent on Sunday, Tony Heywood is one half of celebrated artistic duo Heywood & Condie. The pair’s provocative works – from pocket parks to floating works on the Serpentine – defy classification, and fuse together horticulture, sculpture, design, painting, video and performance. We met Tony at his home and studio in Paddington, in a living room punctuated with giant statues of saints.

Tony Heywood

Heywood and Condie

Having resided in the same historic mews since the 1980s, Tony’s work and art have evolved in step with Paddington’s transformation. The business side of his work, running a landscape design company, has seen him responsible for many of the gardens, public squares and roof gardens between Marble Arch and Notting Hill. This strong community involvement and direct experience of landscape informs his art.

“My work as an artist is finding new ways to engage with nature and landscape,” he explains. ‘The Garden’ as a fine art form has fallen from grace since the 18th century, when it was considered a sister art to poetry and painting. It’s been reduced to the idea that nature is a place to retreat in. That’s great, but in an urban setting, we need to reevaluate what a garden can be. New materials, new forms – let’s give landscape a new vocabulary.”

In practice, this ‘new vocabulary’ is bold, uplifting and surprising, using materials and artistic fusions that are as dynamic as the city itself. Take the duo’s ‘Glamourlands’ installations, a series of works celebrating the English landscape in a thoroughly modern way.

Part landscape art, part multi-media, part botanical field study, these abstract assemblages of iconic landscapes were installed in prominent London locations, including Berkeley Square. “From the city, we look at nature from an artificial point of view,” Tony says. “Let’s not try to hide the artifice. We’re living in a high-tech urban environment, let’s go for it.”

Urban landscapes are our shared spaces; the glue that holds and links entire communities, Tony asserts. Far from being inert facsimiles of pastoral scenes, he believes they should be active and emotional experiences, featuring creative and inventive ‘landscape interventions’.

“Buildings are just structures,” he says. “Fundamentally, we feel a place first. Our brains assimilate structural information, but our experience is the innate feeling of prospect and refuge; how we feel within it. A place becomes a place when it’s motionalised. It’s like a person. We’re not just a set of body parts. There’s an atmosphere to us. The way we create open, sinuous, active public areas is fundamental to the life of a city.”

Interpreting an environment’s narrative is one way to invite an emotional response. “When I walk out of here, I see a train station, a McDonald’s, a church, a cobblestone road, a high rise… it’s an entire history, a palimpsest,” Tony explains. “With careful thought and inventive thinking we can tease out an area’s story, and relate this to the larger landscape.”

A prime example of this is the High Line in New York – a boundary-less landscape that weaves through various urban environments. By rejecting the ‘master plan’ approach in favour of small-scale, storytelling landscape interventions, the High Line invites interaction and an emotional response. And where there is emotion, there is life.