Monday, June 09, 2014

The Quest for Meaning within the Spirit of the Flower and the Root


Iris 'Superstition'                             


Lilium regale                                                                                           

The definitions of Botanical Art are as ephemeral as the shifting sands beneath the ocean. Each individual artist defines Botanical Art through their work, reshapes it and drives it forward both consciously and unconsciously. The work of interested historians has offered many of the explanations required for it to be understood, such as that of Amanda Vickery, who in her BBC4 series The Story of Women in Art included the mysterious and courageous Maria Sibylla Merian. How well she explained the artist and her work in the context of that time.

My individual quest to redefine the work of the Flower Painter has always lived on the far boundaries of what has come to be defined as Botanical Art. This is simply because my work is unusual in that it has always involved meaning and purpose that is philosophical in tone. This is not emotion, nor is it intellect, rather it occupies a space and place that is neutral and beyond the polarities of decorative art and scientific illustration. In an ocean floor that is still shifting, it is an observational understanding of life that I fuse into the observational painting.

For the most part, my teaching career has run parallel with the painting, I have created methods and techniques, some of which have taken many years of experience to achieve. This sometimes leaves other artists bemused as to why I offer solutions so freely. The reply to this is that techniques are the tip of the iceberg, they are the means by which other experiences in creativity are encountered, and they are the means by which actual meaning is accessed. Each technique I create is really not something I claim ownership over, it is in fact something that I feel comes through me and can then be available everyone or anyone who wishes to benefit from it artistically. My teaching is now spontaneously given to those who ask for questions to be answered, and other impromptu talks in faraway places and galleries.

Recently, at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery in Kew, a group of artists asked me questions about techniques and methods, and this was what I was expecting, as no one has ever asked me to explain the meaning behind my work, because most look at it materially as technique. Thereafter, I sat alone on the seat opposite the two large paintings of Iris germanica ‘Superstition’ and Lilium regale, the two 5 feet high life size paintings now on display. 

There then came to sit next to me a girl of about nine years old who sat looking at the two paintings, and writing answers on her paper questionnaire. I asked her what she thought of the pictures and she said Wow, and when I explained that I had painted them, she said Wow again. She then looked at her questionnaire and asked me cheerfully – what do they mean?

I gave her a very simplified but hopefully interesting answer, and she went cheerfully on her way. And I sat there amazed that it was a child who had as last asked me the question I had been waiting for.

For the grown-ups reading this blog, here is the explanation of why these two paintings were created as a pair:

The work offers a connection between two different flowering plants, which represent the past and the future, and chaos and order. The Iris germanica ‘Superstition’ represents the past, the chaos, and the unconscious mind, and the measure of misinformation that the past brings. The Lilium regale represents the future, order, and the conscious mind, and the measure of information that the future brings. These polarities can be read horizontally from left to right and right to left. They can also be read vertically from up to down and down to up. Vertically, the issues awakened are the experience of beauty in the inflorescence, the experience of ugliness in the root system. Each painting also represents the administration of the leaves and stem that symbolically move between the two polarities of the up and the down. In total, the two works are like a map of our human experience symbolised by the layers of the life expressed in the two plants.