Lost in Time

By Tamlyn Martin

Picture this… Magical French rendezvous with Tanya Poole and Nigel Mullins.

…I am charging across the drenched acid green, neatly compartmented, French landscape, a few weeks back. Yet again I am lost, Tori Amos singing popular love ballads, to get me through the verdant maze of unfamiliarity … then suddenly the ashen sky’s light up with a rainbow of spectral colour and I know with certainty I am closer than I expected to my amazing South African artists buddies, Tanya Poole and Nigel Mullins, secret artist retreat. 

I follow the rainbow down into the ancient (dating back to Roman settlement) heart of a tiny hamlet … My heart soars at the sight of thriving communal veg gardens and old-world irrigation systems, free range goats & chickens and finally a very secret lane takes me past a breath-taking river and up into the artists compound of wonderment!

Nigel and Tanya stand at the Ivey framed kitchen door announcing I’ve have made it in perfect time for Tanya’s Exhibition opening at the Everad Read in Cape Town! 

It is exactly 3yrs since I celebrated the opening of her last big solo show “Ancient Codes” 2019 …in the gallery with all our Rhodes art school buddies. … Just like that we are beaning into the show chatting with friends virtually, tucking into a heavenly curried soup made from their fresh garden veggies tucked away in the cosey French kitchen. In amongst our giggles, catch ups, Ohh’s about the amazing work, I announce I have been exploring ideas about Freedom and re-wilding post Covid.  We all look at each other and it dawns on us … Covid has delivered us to this previously unimagined place… we are in a few places at once amongst the people who really get us, regardless of our geographical reality … that being very pretty good too! (pun intended) 

Tanya’s latest show “The Night Guide “is a homage to the profound beauty of their new location, more specifically the hauntingly Beautiful tangled, wooded stream that their French home and studio looks into.  She became mesmerised by the moths and many other insects that populate the untamed waterways in the inky blue, velveteen, still, darkness of night. I’m so lucky as not only is it’s Tanya’s opening night in Cape Town but also a full moon in France … their remote sanctuary is abuzz with moon worshiping insects and owls. 

Tanya’s exhibition features a huge glowing moon along with her exquisitely intricate, almost human scale moths. I love that the gallery painted the walls deep blue creating such a powerful mood in the space.

We talk about the symbolism of the Moth & the Butterfly, their vital importance to ecology, science, beauty camouflage and inevitably we land delicately on the Dutch notion of “Vanitas “, the inevitable transience of beauty and life. A theme that has punctuated both our works for many years. 

“My eyes like the way moths follow the glow of the luminous night-time blooms, the way they navigate through the dense interlocking tangles of the forest floor, under the light of the moon and the stars. Is the moon a night guide for a moth who carries all her richness in the dark? “

We spend most of my stay, cooking, gardening, walking and just being and only on the last day do I realise I really need to discuss art … see the studios and all that …  but I have to say that it feels like there is little separation here between art making, home making and life! 

Hanging out in Tanya’s stunning cocoon like studio, embedded between the house and the rocky hill behind the house. It is flooded with light, amazing shelves of her Inks and paints, brushes and the special works and inspirations, it’s amazingly quiet and earthed by the back stone wall sitting tight against the earth. 

Tanya has also fallen in love with gently renovating these Beautiful old stone walls. In the two years they have been on the property they have done some major renovations working side by side local artisans, learning all about the rich heritage to the property. They have built two amazing studio spaces and a beautiful guest cottage. The garden is a particular delight – with abundant fresh water and Tanya’s green fingers their veg garden is abundant. I loved making pickles and sauces with all the produce. 

After one of our lovely walks along the river, I manage to get Nigel to take me into his cathedral like studio. The ceiling is magnificent, and the 3 story stone walls have little recesses with Nigel’s collection of Mary icons. 

Nigel’s latest works are standing statuesque on easels, and I’m struck by how their bigness match Nigel ‘s hight and the stretch of his arms – the space fits him.  I have been a fan of Nigel’s magical mastery of plump paint and vivid colours for over 30yrs (Nigel was a few yrs. ahead of us at art school) 

His latest works are huge colour fields that have the soothing comforting quantity of a delicately stitched quilt or embroidery, coupled with the deliberate decisiveness of abstract expressionism. There is also some hip hop flamboyance and irreverence in one or two. 

Nigel recalls similar, grid based works he created in the early 2000’s, he called these “Marking Time “. I remembered their grey pallet and rhythmic nature, but that rainbow that led me to him through the grey sky’s burst into my mind! It’s just so special to see artists allowing their work to be what they need to be.  Without the constrains of time and space. Nigel’s works remind me of the ancient stones stacked in the walls of his studio, the images on cinematic film flashing by, he talks about the colours in the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame Cathedral weeks before it tragically burnt….  and I’m reminded that all great paintings distil time.  

As I leave their sanctuary for Paris I’m so glad I’ve left a few things undone … food markets still to explore , more recipes to write, heirloom seeds I will someday come to plant  in this timeless place … reasons to return and just like that I’m exiting through more rainbows as if being released from a colour vortex .

For more on Tanya’s show visit … 


For more in Nigel’s Beautiful painting visit