The natural world is a constant source of inspiration for the global community. Movies, songs, books and artworks aplenty have all been created in awe of it and the Art Gallery of WA’s current exhibition, The Botanical: Beauty and Peril is no exception. It’s comprised of the work of several Australian artists, who were all in some way either sparked or terrified by nature.
An extensive contribution to the exhibit were the artworks on loan from the Janet Holmes á Court Collection. Janet herself is a very vibrant woman. She greeted me with keen eyes and wore a pair of unique pop-art style glasses. She talked about her collection of artworks with such fondness as if they were her own children. When asked about what message she hoped to convey through The Botanical exhibition, her passion for the natural world and its raw beauty was evident. “We live in a biodiversity hotspot, we have the most extraordinary range and variety of natural plants here and what we’re doing is slowly diminishing that.” She hopes that people will learn to love and protect the environment as it quickly disappears due to our actions.
William Robinson’s 1988, The Creation series, was one example; a convoluted and intricate piece of work spanning across five canvases. One is almost reminded of the movie Inception while viewing the artworks, as it depicts a distorted view of the landscape with colossal gum trees stretching out of view and folding into the glassy reflection of a pond and cattle beside it.
Artwork by William Robinson: Fire mountain landscape from The Creation series (series of five paintings) 1988, oil on linen, State Art Collection, AGWA.
Janet is also an avid collector of Indigenous artwork. Her interest in collecting such art was first inspired by an exhibition that she visited in London in the ’80s, Mr Sandman. “It was just so wonderful”, she recalls, her eyes lighting up at the mention of it. Sure enough, she called her husband and told him that he had to come and see it. They were so in love with the artwork that they bought the whole exhibition and the rest is history.
Annie Dorrington’s iconic watercolour wildflower collection was on show as well, exhibiting her detailed portrayal of the plants and their natural beauty. I was mesmerised by the way in which she was able to capture the silken nature of flowers, her paintings emulating a delicate tone.
Brian Robinson’s …and meanwhile back on earth the blooms continue to flourish assaulted the senses with an explosion of colour and shape. Unlike the rest of the artwork in the exhibition, Robinson’s sculptures had a futuristic element to them––there was no classical style to the piece. He used a variety of mediums such as wood, steel, feathers and plant fibre to create the bouquet of exquisite, geometric wildflowers. Where Dorrington’s wildflowers were gentle, Robinson managed to capture the other side of the spectrum; their eccentricity and dynamism.
Artwork by Brian Robinson: …and meanwhile back on earth the blooms continue to flourish 2013, wood, plastic, steel, synthetic polymer paint, feathers, plant fibre and shell, State Art Collection, AGWA.
Hanging in the centre of the room was a collection of batiks by the Utopian women of the Northern Territory. A wide array of colours and shapes adorned the material as they slowly swayed in the breeze of passers-by. The silks are very well-travelled, having been exhibited in the likes of Kuala Lumpur and China. They usually travel in groups of around five at a time, but the Art Gallery of Western Australia is lucky enough to have 18 on display. The sheer size of the silks is enough to draw your attention to them but as you delve deeper into the designs, it’s the little details that keep you hooked. Lizards, beetles and animal tracks are just a few of the symbols depicted. The designs are akin to those which are painted upon the community for ceremonies, further enriching the cultural significance of the silks. They represent the stories and songs of past and present Indigenous generations, made to be passed onto the next.
Collection of batiks, photo by Paris Doick.
The exhibition focuses on our interruption of the natural world. The bush fires that have occurred, the degradation of soil and the depletion of wildlife biodiversity are all because of our thoughtless actions when using natural resources. The Botanical is a call to action, a call to appreciate the natural wonders of our world and turn the future around before it is doomed. It showcases the beauty of the planet in which we are lucky enough to call home but also the ugly truth––it will fade fast if we do nothing to help it.
Artwork by Peter Usher: Dusk Shadows 2017, photo by Paris Doick.
The Botanical: Beauty and Peril is on show from 6th July until 4th November at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.