Plant portraits

2010-10-07 00:00

THE Botanical Artists Association of South Africa (BAASA) will be holding an exhibition of their work in the Schreiner gallery at the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg.

Titled ‘Passion for Plants’, the exhibition runs from October 7 to November 30 and will feature works in charcoal, pastel, crayon, watercolour, scraperboard, and pen and ink.

All the artists exhibiting at the Tatham, except Annali Delsink from Cape Town, are based in KwaZulu­-Natal. They include Penny Nicholson from Underberg and Chiliza Sibonelo Boy from Durban, who recently showed their work at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Art Biennale at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

Those interested in learning about botanical art can take part in two walkabouts during the exhibition’s run.

The first takes place on October 14 at noon and includes a demonstration by retired Durban University of Technology lecturer, Fransie Pretorius, showing how to work in charcoal.

The second walkabout is on November 11 at noon and will also include a demonstration.

Collectors also have the chance to buy paintings by Vicky Thomas, a Cape artist who has been commissioned by HRH Prince of Wales to paint several pictures at High Grove.

Speaking to The Witness about the BAASA exhibition, Jean Powell, a member of the exhibitions committee, said that botanical art was meant to be a portrait of the plant. But she stressed that the genre was not confined to the beautiful botanical illustrations found in books and periodicals about plants.

The revived interest in botanical art can, in part, be put down to the efforts of Dr Shirley Sherwood, a collector and author of books about botanical illustrations and the driving force behind the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, which opened in 2008 at Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom. The gallery houses her private collection, which includes illustrations by contemporary artists living in 30 different countries, as well as some of Kew’s huge collection of botanical illustrations.

Sherwood’s interest in botanical art was piqued when, as a journalist, she was asked to write about a new exhibition at Kew.

“She was so taken by it that she began collecting botanical art,” Powell said. “She has since produced a couple of books, which have also helped revive the whole botanical art scene.”

The emergence of botanical illustration as a genre of art dates back to the 15th century, when herbals (books describing the culinary and medicinal uses of plants) were printed containing illustrations of flowers.

As printing techniques advanced, and new plants came to Europe from Ottoman Turkey in the 16th century, wealthy individuals and botanic gardens commissioned artists to record the beauty of these exotics and sent them around the world on plant-collecting expeditions.

South Africa’s wide array of indigenous flora provides the inspiration for BAASA’s members, most of whom are amateurs.

Estelle on twitter.

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