..Lese Dunton ..


Daisy Cockburn was born and raised in London. Her father, the late radical journalist Alexander Cockburn moved to New York in 1972, and twenty years later settled in the tiny rural hamlet of Petrolia in remote Northern California. Daisy joined her father in the spring of 2011 when it emerged that he had been diagnosed with advanced cancer, and remained with him until his untimely death at 71 in the summer of 2012. Inhabiting the extraordinary spaces that comprise her father's house and garden, Daisy began work on a series of paintings, exploring the themes of presence, absence, grief and celebration.

In her words:

During the last 20 years of his life, my father threw himself into transforming an ordinary house and bare patch of land into an artist's paradise. The bare patch is now a secret garden adorned with sculptures, an apple orchard, and a series of surprising constructions, both whimsical and practical. Rammed-earth walls, successfully aged to be reminiscent of the walled gardens of his Anglo-Irish childhood (the application of buttermilk induces the fast growth of ancient-looking moss) enclose the front yard, at the centre of which is local master craftsman Greg Smith's replica of a 14th century Irish font.

Elizabeth Berrien's giant wire sculpture of a Grizzly bear guards a fruit cage containing an abundance of black, white and red currants, the bushes centered around a vast ceramic totem, one of the many sculptures by Nepal-based Jim Danisch that adorn the orchard and the 400 foot climb to the "Redwood Tower."

Petrolia artist Becky Grant's elegant mosaic benches invite classical repose and grapes and kiwis drip from the roof of the Greek Temple, a shady semi-circular spot for summer lunches and socratic dialogue. Huge carboys of undistilled cider sit in golden silence in the mosque-roofed Cider House.

At first, wandering through the spaces that my father had created - and so emphatically inhabited - was a bewildering experience. How could this place continue to exist without him, since it seemed to me that it was him, in every detail, in the lozenges of light that came through the stained glass in the ceiling of the Cider House, in the strewn dead leaves on the floor of the Greek temple (I tried to sweep them up once and he stopped me, saying he rather liked them like that); in the ceaseless bloom of the cluster of 20 foot Datura that he had planted right outside his bedroom window, now drooping like triffids in the moonlight as I tried to sleep.

During my father's illness I painted still lifes of objects in his house. This summer I painted in the garden. When I stopped to think about it I felt an overwhelming gratitude for the peaceful enclosure and inspiration afforded by the idyll my father had created, and for the chance to interpret it.

Painting the Datura brought me closer to them and to what I was grieving, it was as if I'd been let in on the secret of this mysterious flower and been given a taste its transformative powder. 

Painting in these spaces was a way to connect with and transform my experience of them, a way to be in this place that embodied my father and yet wasn't him, a way of being with him, and without him.

Alex's Lost Coast Tower (rental): www.airbnb.com/rooms/1187641

An Interview with Daisy: www.newsun.com/daisy.html