Mike Healey has a long association with Brantwood, first exhibiting at the Severn Gallery in 1999 with a show celebrating ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
Others followed over the next three years, including an exhibition exploring aspects of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The opening of this particular show coincided with a performance of the play itself in the parkland below the house. This opening was graced by members of the cast in costume examining portraits of themselves – a mildly surreal experience for all concerned.
Mike’s earlier career in television also brought him to Brantwood. His BBC TV production of the life of Arthur Ransome as a journalist included filming within the estate and at the former home of William Collingwood just down the road from Brantwood. A local gravel pit nearby became a WW1 trench while woods above the gardens, full of bluebells, became a rural scene set on the outskirts of Moscow!
‘The Early Life of Beatrix Potter’ (BBC2) starring Helena Bonham Carter was also filmed close by, including a bicycle sequence in the lane that runs past the house. It was around this time that Mike also created a ‘Green Man’ for the gardens of Brantwood. The rule was that he could only build it with natural materials found on the estate – no nails or glue! He cheated slightly by including broken shards of glass for eyes.
As far as we know – twenty years on – this ‘head’ is still there, high up a tree somewhere near the pond!
‘The Gardens of Persephone’ which opens on 30 January, 2021 explores themes central to Mike’s work, not least his ‘sense of place’. For the last ten years he has lived and worked in Carcassonne (SW France) and Corfu (Greece) where the ancient gods still haunt remote parts of the countryside. Back now in Cumbria, Mike’s landscapes have acquired a particularly English character but still haunted, often visceral and occasionally dark – not unlike the poetry of Ted Hughes.
Ruskin, whose presence is felt everywhere in this beautiful part of The Lake District, explored the nature and character of landscape. He was also interested in mythology, albeit through the prism of his Christian beliefs.
While not directly influence by Ruskin, Mike’s work explores parallel aspects of the natural world, bringing to landscape and plant forms a surreal, sometimes bizarre quality that is not only provocative perhaps but also – hopefully – beautiful.