‘The Garden at Night’ 


by Ruschka du Toit



What does it mean to be a flower? 

The transience of life that deepens its sweetness 

What are flowers saying to us? 

We pursue them to their hiding places 


Ruschka du Toit’s work is a window into the garden at night, where we might glimpse the hidden life of what grows there. She uses ink to capture figments, partly emerging, partly disappearing from the paper or canvas, like the soft silhouettes of this nocturnal garden. The artist blurs boundaries; pulling from ink drawings, botanical observations, illustrations, literary works and paintings to create an altered genre. It remains open-ended, an unfinished sentence, a question. This is du Toit’s practice — expansive, unpredictable, at once macabre and delightful. 


This body of work showcases the culmination of du Toit’s obsession with flowers. She paints shadow portraits, ghost flowers, orchids, fynbos, unidentified monsters and budding crocuses. They are captured in the soft pallor of the moonlight. They invite the question — ‘what is a flower?’  — or more importantly, ‘what do flowers have to teach us?’ Darwin recorded looking into a flower and seeing “the very heart of nature’s double nature — that is, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spiring toward complex form and the tidal pull away from it.” Georgia O’Keeffe wrote about the power of a single small flower that if “[you] really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Virginia Woolf felt that left alone, there was a yearning towards flowers with a possibility to feel that “they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one.” Perhaps even with the fleetingness of a flower’s bloom, they have important things to teach us about time. 


Du Toit pulls remnants of flowers and their various associations, like discarded petals, and brings them together, imbued with observation and eerie imagination. The artist’s ethereal flowers showcase the delights of nature, illustrating the beauty of both a flower’s becoming and its afterlife. They are testaments to the communion of life that embraces, in equal parts, birth and decay. They hold somewhat of the whole world for du Toit, sometimes joyful, sometimes melancholic. These disparate elements give life to the painter’s spectral botanicals in a gothic Frankenstein assemblage. With parallels to several themes put forward in this pioneering 1818 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, du Toit’s work grapples with ‘the monster’, notions of divinity and the weighting of nature versus nurture. 


When describing her own relationship with the floral kingdom, du Toit says: “The flowers allow me to tell a story. The flowers are a conduit, but also a teacher.” The artist doesn’t merely paint flowers, she paints the shadows of their transcendent beauty. She captures the bittersweet, which author Susan Cain describes as most palpable in “those out-of-time moments when you witness something so sublime that it seems to come from a more perfect and beautiful world.” Du Toit’s work tenderly holds questions of the divine, allowing the artist to further explore the cavernous nature of these questions. The works speak to concepts of immanence — that the divine exists unobserved in the everyday. Many of the paintings are portraits of a single, precious moment. Perhaps the work, most of all, stands as an encouragement to pause, to take time to celebrate the flowers or glance up into the night’s sky where we might glimpse some remnants of holiness — upon closer observation, we might even notice, in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, that “all the stars are a-bloom with flowers…


Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” 

– Mary Shelley’s Monster, Frankenstein