The dictionary defines "Paradise" in various ways: as a place or state of great happiness, the Garden of Eden, a region of surpassing beauty and bliss, the Mohammedan heaven, a pleasure ground, and the garden of a convent.

This human longing for Paradise has shaped the way we look at landscape. Depending on our place in history our vision of Paradise may be a spiritual experience or the reflection of the values and/or aspirations of a culture. In many parts of the western world a contemporary idea of Paradise is somewhat romantic and would include a healthy environment as a necessary part of the landscape.

Garage, West Vancouver
Title: Garage, West Vancouver.

In Heaven and Hell in Western Art, Robert Hughes describes the classical movements in Europe between the 10th and 14th centuries, which characterized Paradise having antique gods and motifs in a moralized form. With the Renaissance came the dream of an earthly paradise that was returned to a secular context and mediaeval visions dropped away along with biblical symbols. Gone were Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, the Four Rivers. The Renaissance Paradise meant nothing other than a most pleasant garden, abundant with all pleasing and delightful things, trees, fruit, flowers, running water, birds—all things to content the heart of a beautiful woman.

Granville Street, Vancouver
Title: Granville Street, Vancouver.

An example of art from this time would be Botticelli’s Primavera. Here the dream of a secular Paradise is expressed; Botticelli represents an Eden that is accessible. Other Renaissance painters chose the grape trellises, rose bushes, and cypresses of the Tuscany hills to express their vision of Paradise. Indeed, Pliny has written that the view from his window did not appear as real land but as an exquisite painting. In the 17th and 18th century Poussin and Watteau inherited the Renaissance vision of actual landscape as Paradise and transmuted it back through its classical origins into the setting of the Golden Age. Watteau’s paintings describe a society living in harmony with an idealized nature—feathery green trees, golden light shifting down on a lake- all united as a society by love.

Maui Mall Paradise
Title: Maui Mall Paradise.

Simon Shama, in Landscape and Memory, describes how cultural differences change one’s vision of Paradise. To the French, the Garden of Eden was represented by the many representations of the gardens of Versailles with clipped hedges and trelliswork. The English garden was often described as pastoral. In contrast, Italy seemed to favour a mixture of garden and forest. Today the movement through North America and England is to natural gardens; a Paradise more akin to Pan’s Arcadia, layering contrasting textures, shapes and leaf size to create a mystery that seduces the eye into the depth of the garden.

Paradiso Pizza, London
Title: Paradiso Pizza, London.

Perhaps because we have altered so much of the Earth’s natural beauty, we no longer imagine nor want the Paradise sought after in past centuries. Our heritage of development and commerce leaves us settling for much more modest visions of Paradise. We conquered the landscape in the name of progress but we unwittingly destroyed much of the natural flora and fauna that made up our natural Paradise. It is this shift in values and expectations that has fascinated me. As I travel about the country I am both amused and baffled by the choice of name, Paradise, for ones place of business. We have become a culture of workaholics. Has the work place become our Paradise? Does this define our idea of romance?

Regina Paradise
Title: Regina Paradise.