Australia’s leading contemporary botanical art exhibition Botanica returns to the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney in April 2016, exploring the rich and fascinating heritage of Farm Cove as the Garden celebrates its 200th Birthday.
The annual showcase, now in its 17th year, features work by some of the best Australian and international established and emerging botanic and natural history artists and is considered one of the foremost exhibitions of its kind.
This year’s Botanica theme draws its inspiration from the site where the seeds of colonial Sydney’s first farm were sown – today’s Royal Botanic Garden – with artists capturing in spectacular colour and exquisite detail of the plants brought to Farm Cove with the First Fleet, as well as the native species grown and harvested in the area by the local Cadigal people long before European settlement.
Historical information about these plant varieties was provided to artists to guide and inspire their work. This included the extensive list of plants recommended by Joseph Banks for the local conditions; some plants were sourced from Britain and Europe and others collected during stopovers in the Canary Islands, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town. They included a vast array of fruits, vegetables and herbs, cereals, pasture crops and plants used in textile production. Some of the indigenous plants included Scribbly Gums, Sydney Red Gums, Port Jackson figs, wattles, Blackbutt, Prickly Paperbark, Tea Trees, Kangaroo Grass and Christmas Bush.
“The subject matter has generated a lot of interest, especially due to the breadth of plants recommended by Banks. In only a few years the colony was growing plants that had taken hundreds of years to establish in Europe,” says Judy Dunstan, curator of Botanica at Farm Cove.
More than 80 botanical and natural science artists have had works selected for this year’s exhibition, based on their technical skill, scientific accuracy and artistic excellence. They include past and current winners of the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society London’s Botanical Art Show and for the second consecutive year, students from the University of Newcastle, which offers the country’s only degree in natural history illustration.
Lauren Sahu-Khan, 26, is a botanical artist and scientific illustrator and a graduate of the Newcastle University course who is exhibiting in Botanicafor the second time in 2016. Her work is a set of vivid watercolours of a lusciously plump strawberry (pictured), raspberry, blackberry and cherry, paired with intricate cross sections of each fruit.
“It was nice to have the opportunity to branch out a bit from the boundaries of pure scientific illustration and paint these beautifully juicy pieces of colourful fruit,” says Ms Sahu-Khan.
Unlike botanical illustration, which objectively documents the natural world for scientific reference, botanical art can capture the beauty of the plant world in a more vibrant and expressive way, and in recent years has come to be appreciated by a wider audience for its contemporary art value.
“I think people have always been drawn to botanic prints, but there has certainly been a revival of interest in original works in the last 15 to 20 years thanks to such passionate collectors as Shirley Sherwood, the Hunt Institute in Philadelphia and others, and that has provided a huge boost to the current crop of botanic artists,” says Ms Dunstan.
All artworks in the exhibition are for sale with proceeds going to the artists and Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens, the not-for-profit membership-based organisation that supports the Botanic Gardens and presents Botanica each year.