Corresponding with Edward James

West Dean College celebrated the first glimpse of Spring with a talk by Edward James' former Head Gardener, Ivan Hicks. The event, organised by the School of Arts, attracted artists, scholars of Surrealism, and gardeners alike, as Hicks recounted his experience of working for James and the friendship that ensued. Hicks shared images from his personal archive of correspondence exchanged over a period of ten years - the manifestation of two creative minds with a shared passion for horticulture, music, and wildlife. His presentation was accompanied by an exhibition of additional correspondence from The Edward James Archive. Together, the talk and exhibition provided a fascinating account of a richly decorated dialogue that can rightly be considered an example of Mail Art.

Ivan Hicks was Head Gardener at West Dean College and Monkton House between 1973 and 1984. His friendship with James saw them travel together to Ireland, Italy and Mexico, developing various projects. Hicks has since worked on a number of major projects across the UK and combines the influence of Surrealism with his horticultural training.

Edward James is internationally renowned as a patron of the arts, as well as being a poet and architect of fantastical sculptures at 'Las Pozas' in Mexico. Far less is known about his knowledge of and passion for horticulture, and indeed his characteristic style of communication. As well as continuing James' legacy of patronage by loaning works for international exhibitions, West Dean is also committed to celebrating the lesser known areas of his life and work.

The correspondence between the two reveals a private, intimate side of James and offers a glimpse at the formative years of Hicks, now considered one of the UK's leading garden designers and landscape artists.

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This event was one of a series of talks by artists, curators, writers, and academics organised by the School of Arts at West Dean College. Visit the Events page to find out more about forthcoming activity.

The Cultural Papers which form part of The Edward James Archive are currently being cataloguing. You can read more about this project here.

Ivan Hicks envelope to Edward James, 1983. © Ivan Hicks. Image courtesy of West Dean College, part of the Edward James Foundation.
Ivan Hicks envelope to Edward James, 1981. Image: West Dean College, part of the Edward James Foundation.
Christmas card from Ivan Hicks to Edward James © Ivan Hicks. Image courtesy of West Dean College, part of the Edward James Foundation.