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Monday, April 13, 2015

Announcing the opening of a new show at the Jonathan Cooper Park Walk Gallery in London 23 April - 3 May 2015

Celebrating 25 Years of Her Collection

Eighteen invited artists will be showing new work to celebrate Dr Sherwood's remarkable achievement. Each work is unique in its specialisation and depiction of the plant world, expressed in a number of media from acrylic and oil, to watercolour and ink, and print making. This is an opportunity to see the  new work of some well known and new artists whom you might otherwise only see virtually or in catalogues. 

This show has coincided with the completion of one of my ongoing projects that commenced in 2006, after establishing a collection of Paeonia lactiflora in my own garden. This followed several earlier projects in the 1980's and 90's, when I began long term visual interpretations of my phenology data. 

The catalogue for this show is in a small format, and the details of my work are therein very difficult to perceive owing to image reduction. And so, in my previous post I have placed the image of the work that I am showing in this exhibition, and several details that are not clearly shown in the catalogue. This work is a large piece painted from life onto white canvas, over a period of 9 years, picturing the first flowering of a series of established French 19th Century Paeonia cultivars from my much favoured magenta colour ray types.

Phenology data-keeping has been one of my concerns since I began recording information in childhood following the severe winter of 1962-3. As the first Flower Painter involved in the experimentation of translating this data into visual imagery, phenology has become a great passion for me. 

Data takes many years to accumulate and it goes far beyond the simple expression of 'weathering'. The piece on show at Park Walk is five feet in height, showing eleven life-size established cultivars, as affected by the subtleties of climate during their first flowering. A selection of my most favoured cultivars were chosen over these 9 consecutive years. The work is the tip of the iceberg that encapsulates a great deal of information that will be published further into the future. In the meantime, if you should have the opportunity, please do go along to the show. Your comments would be most greatly welcomed.

Work from Botanical Artists in the Collection of Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE
Jonathan Cooper Park Walk Gallery 23 April - 30 May 2015


The Phenology Cabinet of the Incandescent Petal

The Phenology Cabinet of the Incandescent Petal 

Series 1 Magenta Cultivars from 19th Century France

acrylic on canvas


60 x 40 ins / 153 x 102 cm


Paeonia lactiflora 'L'Eclatante'

Paeonia lactiflora 'Mme Ducel'

Paeonia lactiflora ' Mme Boulanger'

Paeonia lactiflora 'Francois Ortegat'

Paeonia lactiflora 'Martin Cahuzac'

More data and an explanation of Phenology and its implications for the Flower Painter are to come at a later date. For the meantime, here are a few of the images that were painted en plein air directly from life, onto the large pristine white canvas. The individual paintings of each flower head are depicted life size measuring on average approximately 13cm in diameter. Do come along to the show and see the work in situ where the painterly inflections can be observed and the perils and pleasures of flowering finds expression in its colourful incandescence.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An Interview with the Plant Curator

                            Paeonia officinalis 'Rubra Plena'
                            watercolour on paper
                            private collection

In 2014 I came across the intriguing where I found a kaleidoscope of many good things, which are eloquently described on the website in the following way: 

All different kinds of artists use floral, botanical or nature-themed elements in their work, meaning print and digital publications are littered with images of plants. Plants in one incarnation or another are always relevant, always current, so there is an endless stream of material to choose from. Plant Curator selectively collects vegetative creations to build a digital athenaeum of plant beauty and application in the arts. Designers that work in nature or plant-related fields will find inspiration for design and content here. In this way we help botanical creatives learn from other botanical creatives. We also aim to give a botanical backstory, to show plants are not just graphical objects, employed for their diverse and inimitable morphology, but that they are our ecology. It is said that beauty is one of nature’s best tools for survival, but as our connection to nature becomes fractured, we see less of its wonder first-hand on a daily basis, making it easier to forget. The arts can help mend the scars, remind us of the magical beauty and essentialness of the natural world.

I recently completed an interview with the Plant Curator which is now published on the site. It was a pleasure to answer all the questions, which were presented to me as an equipoise of the general and the specific, the collective and the personal, and the practical and the philosophical, prompting me to reflect some more upon my ongoing work to express the Spirit of the Flower. It is a delight to be a part of the Plant Curator experience, and the interview is located via the following link:

botanical artistry│imagery│creativity 

The Marriage of Drawing and Photography

                                         Amaryllis 'Denver'
                                         Study of Anthers
                                         watercolour on paper
                                         Artists Collection

I grew up in a family of keen landscape photographers and as a child was allowed to use my Dad’s Leica camera to take my own pictures. I was also a part of the stable of Kodak children, appearing on adverts for knitting patterns and Kodak Colour Film, and was one of the kids who appeared on the yellow outer box of the Box Brownie Camera during the early 1960’s. I continue to be amazed by the invention of photography - for the enchantment of capturing of the moment and the magic of recording an instant aspect of life with its unique configuration.

Painting has its own history with Photography - via Impressionism to the Photo Realism and beyond, photography has been utilised in a myriad of ways.

A Painter will always be better able to use photography if they are also able to draw. As a statement, this is something those who have studied drawing will always maintain.  A Painter uses photography from a different standpoint to an artist who cannot draw. In essence, it is all about how the photograph is used, and not the fact that it is a photograph. The Fine Art sphere came to terms with photography and ran with it very early on in the 20th century, so there is no issue with it. Photography has given a great deal to Painting. Painting and Photography actually have a marriage made in Heaven.

The professional Botanical Illustrator has always needed to utilize photography to enable a project to be fulfilled in the time available. So why is the use of photography currently causing such discontent in the world of Botanical Illustration? 

In the world of Botanical Illustration, drawing has always been highly regarded as a skill. A number of those that use this skill have expressed to me their feelings of unhappiness when they see so many Botanical Illustrators using photography because they are unable or unwilling to draw. 

This maelstrom of discontent that has been forming as an undercurrent, will I suspect break forth in the not too distant future. This issue rests with the Illustrators and it is their responsibility to find a reconciliation within their kinship, particularly where awards are concerned, and especially with this year’s RHS Botanical Art shows about to begin.

As an Observational Painter, I personally take photographs as a back-up, but rarely use them, as I don’t especially like the differences between my observation and the photo image. I am not worried if my work has less detail than a hyper-realistic photo based painting, because observation has hyper-realism in other more energetic and spontaneous ways. I would not relish the idea of staring into an iPad all day; I would rather stare into the face of a flower.

Observational Drawing initiates the risk of failure. It’s easier and less stressful to paint from a photograph, where many of the unknown factors have been sorted out in photographic terms. So why work from life, why would I give myself the problems incurred in drawing? I work from life because it is demanding, because it is something risky, and because by working within the limited life span of a plant,  the magic of spontaneity has the power to make the impossible entirely possible.