Friday, June 05, 2009

Exhibition review: Contemporary Australasian Botanical Artists

Down Under: Contemporary Botanical Artists from Australia and New Zealand is an exhibition of contemporary botanical art by exceptional Australian and New Zealand artists. The works on display now form part of Dr Shirley Sherwood's Collection.

The exhibition can be seen at the at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the exhibition continues until 26th July 2009.
The paintings featured range from flower studies and still lifes to detailed botanical illustrations of native plants, showing a great range of styles and techniques. Studies are in watercolour on paper or vellum, gouache, acrylic or coloured pencil and copper plate etching. Most of the work has been executed in Australia or New Zealand but many of the artists are widely travelled and have lived or taught in Europe and elsewhere.
I went to see it last week and greatly enjoyed seeing many fine examples of contemporary botanical art.

Artists who have work in the show include:
  • Bryan Poole - a New Zealand artist who now lives and works in London. His etchings are wonderfully well designed and executed and I highly recommend trying to see them in real life. They can also be seen on his website. Cyaathea Dealbala Punga (a tree fern) is on display in the exhibition and took four months to complete. Bryan trained in botanical art at Kew and he is now a member of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.
Bryan Poole exhibiting at The RHS Chelsea Show in May 2008
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • Celia Rosser - best known for her three volume series about the Banksias which took over 25 years to complete as University Artist for Monash University. It's an amazing achievement - that's 76 different species of Banksia! No 77 - when it was discovered was named after Celia Rosser! You can see images of prints of the Banksias on her website
  • Margaret Saul - born in Australia and currently splitting her time and teaching between Maryland, USA and Tuscany (where she now lives). Her favourite medium is watercolour with dry colour pencils. Work on display in the exhibition (and as prints on her website) includes Sterculia quadrifida (Peanut Tree) and Elaeocarpus angustifolius (Blue Quandong)
  • Paul Jones - I was greatly intrigued by his gradated coloured backgrounds (which you can see in the images in the link). He died in 1997.
  • Susannah Blaxill - has been painting full time since 1985. She's recognised as being one of the world’s leading botanical artists specialising in watercolour, pencil and recently in charcoal. The beetroot exhibited on her website home page is in the show - and I love that painting! She produces really meticulous watercolours and can create a beautiful velvety texture on the paper. You can see more examples of her work - and close ups of small sections on her website.
Susannah has just completed a commission of a pink and white camellia on a dark background. The background is composed of 32 layers of paint and the flower is in gouache overlaid with watercolour. The brush strokes are so tiny, that one almost needs a magnifying glass to see them and fully appreciate the work. Susannah painted the picture using a specially made pair of very strong glasses as the work is so detailed
Down Under: Contemporary Botanical Artists from Australia and New Zealand in the Shirley Sherwood Collection
You can find out more about these artists and all the featured artists if you download this leaflet.

The exhibition has an Australasian slant as one might expect. For example it includes different versions of the Banksia - that universal symbol of Australian botanical art and a variety of plants which are found in parts of Australasia.

Meantime, I'm using my copy of A Passion for Plants: Contemporary Botanical Masterworks by Shirley Sherwood to see what she has to say about each eartist and their work. I do love this book as the reproductions of the work are excellent and each artist has a minimum of a double page spread.

Tomorrow I'll comment on the other two exhibitions that I saw in the same gallery.



  1. Very seductive links in this post, Katherine. Wonderful work but it is Susannah Blaxill's website that is going to draw me back. Her work is astonishingly beautiful and I was so delighted with her generosity in posting such large images. They really do present her work in an ideal way.

    I know artists don't want their work stolen but I think the investment in a website is often undercut by mean little photos. What do you think?

  2. I don't see the point of very small pics. The best way to reduce drastically the chances of images being copied is to alter the dpi and file format

    The other way to let people see the detail and beauty of a work is to let people see a slice or section of a work.

    I think the way Susannah does it excellent - she shares but doesn't give everything away. It's a very nice website.

    Did you notice Margaret Saul's new location? ;)

  3. Yes! I went to Margaret Saul's website immediately to see where she is living (and teaching?!) in Tuscany but perhaps the site is out of date because it has her living in the US.


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