Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Tranquility of Drawing

Drawing is literally a process of mark making on a surface, although esoterically it is much, much more. In the 2013 series of Little Flower Drawings each mark made has been a statement of intent - long or short, ordered or chaotic - they offer a visual rhyme made up of many energetic pulses. These momentary pulses that are manifest in each mark then culminate to give the drawing a life of its own and create an elusive something. This elusive something happens in the work when both mind and heart yield and tranquility is experienced in a mental space allowing the drawing to become fused with the irradiation of silence.

This post comes with Seasonal Greetings to all the readers of this Blog on our global map from North to South and East to West, wishing you a holiday time filled with joy and peace.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Techniques and Tradition, Colleges and Schools

For all contemporary Botanical Artists, the path to a result is through practice and training in techniques and methods and the development of their personal will. The use of themes is fairly well established in Botanical Art as they herald from the tradition of the herbal and the monograph and connect to scientific understanding and the needs of conservation. So what about ideas? How do ideas convert into Botanical Art, and how does a Botanical Artist use an idea as a criteria for their work?

Traditionally Botanical Illustrators work with a brief which has a specific purpose, and their work is used to support the areas of botany and conservation with which they are associated. However, many of the historic heroes of Botanical Art in general, such as Durer and Van Eyck, were not illustrators but instead worked with images of nature with the need to be true to nature was a part of the bigger picture of the development of art and its history, which is something subtly different to the development of Botanical Illustration. This subtle difference now runs as a vein through Contemporary Botanical Art and in so doing it pushes it into unknown territory and newness, as ideas and concepts are spontaneously brought into the arena by free thinking artists who have a purpose that is not only about techniques and methods, but is also about the ideas they want to persue and express about the subject they are painting. This is the point where Contemporary Botanical Art breaks away from Botanical Illustration and forges its own path way. If the artist does not have a strong notion, their work operates in the field of decoration. I use the word decoration with care, rather than the term aesthetics, because aesthetics are a deep and complex area of study.

Artistic school leavers, surveying the probabilities of a career path, often ask my opinion about what kind of education they should apply themselves to as an initial career step to becoming a professional Botanical Artist. Every artist has a place and when it comes to studying for an art qualification there is always the right place for the right person. In accordance with my background, I am generally biased towards suggesting that the young aspiring artist take the step to study at degree level in Fine Art, Illustration or Design, at an established Art College, because this offers an all round art education that is very eclectic and catholic in its nature. This can operate through observational drawing from the human figure as a basis for training in how to see and how to look, through to an awareness in contemporary art and art history in general. With a background in Fine Art and/or Design at degree level, an artist may then specialise by taking additional courses in Botanical Art or Illustration, if they should find it to be necessary. Busy people with already established careers and responsibilities can pick and choose from a kaleidoscope of workshops, courses, and diplomas from which to forge a new or secondary career if they wish to study part time. An alterbative route to becoming a proffessional Botanical Artist is via botany itself. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most interesting Contemporary Botanical Artists come from a background of training in various forms of Botany. These practicioners are a kind of exception, something unique, because their knowledge brings them insight and awareness that goes beyond the realms of observation. This prompts the wish, that the two sides will one day meet in an established Art College. This could take the form of a BA and/or Ma in Fine Art (Botanical Painting), in which Painting and Botany may be combined and studied full time, on an academic level.

I suspect the above comment may invoke a controversial response, so please do bear in mind that it is not my aim to be an agent provocateur but to reccomend the development of a strong artistic background before specialising. This in the long term enables development and a free thinking inquiring attitude. Many successful Botanical Artists come from a degree level background in Fine Art, Fashion, Textiles, and Jewellery Design. This has laid down for them a bedrock of understanding and ways of seeing and looking, as well as the ability to apply techniques.

At the time I studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art, it was located just off the Kings Road in Chelsea, and is now situated in John Islip Street in London SW1 http://www.arts.ac.uk/chelsea/
Traditionally Chelsea College is referred to by its alumni as Chelsea School of Art.
From 2014 the well established English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden  will offer its diploma course in Botanical Illustration under the new name of The Chelsea School of Botanical Art. I mention this to eliminate any confusion and to clarify that this school has no connection to the aforementioned Chelsea College of Art and Design, where I studied. These two schools have no affiliation and are entirely separate institutions with different histories.

Many professional Contemporary Botanical Artists are self taught, but this is invariably the result of studying the original works by already established Botanical Artists and the many worthy teaching books. A self taught artist remains individually responsible for honouring, by means of an acknowledgement, the legacy they choose to inherit from the artists they have been inspired by. Acknowledgement of influence is a normal practice in fine art in general. In the newly established field of Botanical Art, the Legacy exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew establishes a bench mark for how this kind of honourable influence may be understood in a broader context.

The reality is that no one is without influence or legacy and no one learns entirely in isolation or is entirely self taught. Influence and legacy are some of the essential ingredients for young artists to work with, for without this they have nothing on which to cut their teeth or to use as a spring board for something new and innovatory. Plagiarism is not the same as influence, plagiarism is claiming ownership over what is not one's personal individual endeavour. Influence when acknowledged is conversely educational, and is truthful in the same sense that observational drawing is truthful.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

What is Contemporary Botanical Art?


The title of this post is a question that I have been asked on many occasions by Art Collectors who want to understand what is occurring in the world of Contemporary Botanical Art.  The main concern they have is definition, and so inquire if Botanical Art is Botanical Illustration, or if it is Fine Art. For an art collector there are always variable reasons for building a collection and a serious collector understandably needs to have clarification.

My answer to this inquiry is a personal opinion based on observation:

The definition is simple and plain - Contemporary Botanical Art is an umbrella term under which many types of artists working with plant imagery co-exist. Broadly speaking, this group of artists range from the highly technical Botanical Illustrators (including Digital Botanical Illustrators), the Naturalistic Flower Painters (I place myself here), and, the free style painters and sculptors who focus on botanical subjects. Across the board it includes artists who work with all techniques and all mediums, including print making and photography. I say this without bias, with no sub textural belief that one is better than the other. I define Contemporary Botanical Art in this way because the over riding interest of all participating artists is a concern for the plant kingdom, which is a reason to reflect upon unity of purpose.

Not all Botanical Art is concerned with maintaining a link to science, as there are elements connected to decoration as one polarity, and to philosophy at the other extreme. The art of the Flower Painter can be partly traced back to the Medieval painted borders of the Books of Hours. The Introduction to my book Painting Flowers in Watercolour - a naturalistic approach describes this history. Flower Painting (which generally includes fruit and foliage) can be linked to an intensely meditative or philosophical work process. Flower Painting is sometimes inaccurately referred to as being simply 'aesthetic' in its approach. It is worth remembering that Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy in its own right, and any connection to Flower Painting should perhaps not be used superficially.

The title Contemporary Botanical Art belongs to everyone involved, simply because it has a place within the bigger picture of applied and fine arts. However, for some reason some practitioners of Botanical Illustration seem to want to separate it from the bigger picture of Art. This may be due to an historical need to have a separation from that bigger picture.  No one has ownership over the banner of Botanical Art at the expense of another artist's endeavour. I view the banner as an art history term, and consequently I describe this aspect of my work as Naturalistic Flower Painting in much the same way that a Portrait Painter may describe themselves as such. 

How artists in this genre entitle themselves is a key to understanding who they are and what they do specifically. It would be interesting to know statistically how many artists become full time professionals after training, and what percentage pursue the subject as a serious amateur. One thing is for sure, anyone who describes their work as Botanical Art should do so as a considered response and not as a prescribed definition. I do not advocate absorbing and reflecting any definition made by teachers, historians, or art critics. What is appropriate is for artists to have enough clarity of intent to define themselves in an appropriate way that is real and true for them.

My work as an ordinary Flower Painter is inspired by a love of the plant kingdom. The expression of observable truth is to me the end game of beauty. I also read meaning within nature, and the work reflects this. When all is said and done, the delight in witnessing artistic interpretations of the plant world blossom and grow is something that lives way above and beyond all definitions. The work comes from a place that is a marriage of both truth and mystery, much like nature itself. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Botanical Art Into the Third Millenium

Museo della Grafica

Lilium regale - detail

From 20th April to 15th July 2013, the Italian Museo della Graphica in Pisa, is showing an exhibition entitled Botanical Art into the Third Millennium. In this context is a selection of mixed 20th and 21st century works heralding from the Shirley Sherwood Collection. Included is the life size work of Lilium regale, which is nearly five feet in height, and includes inflorescence, stem, and root system. This piece forms a part of the second room in the exhibition that is showing contemporary drawings by 21st Century Botanical Artists. The show is co-edited by the most eminent Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi with the assistance of Allesandro Tosi, who are together the museum's Curators. This elegant and highly informative show has been created with the collaboration of Dr Shirley Sherwood. This unique Italian museum, located in the Palazzo Lanfranchi in Pisa, is a beautiful and elegant setting for a wonderful exhibition.


(scroll down this page to read the English transcription) 

Please see the 2008 posts for further details and information on the creation of the Lilium regale work.