February 2018 Symbolism and Plants

Untended Garden in Yellow SML

Plants and flowers depicted in paintings throughout history have been used to help tell a story. They can symbolise virtues, emotions or have other meanings that help the viewer understand the painting’s subject. Pictured above is Untended Garden in Yellow, a follow up on my earlier work from last year about biodiversity, made with weeds and grasses.

“Beyond their decorative properties, plants and flowers usually had a symbolic meaning or association that related to the subject of the painting. Thus, a plant could be depicted either as an attribute, giving clues to the identity of the subject or sitter… or as providing a moral or philosophical annotation on the subject.”

from Botanical Imagery in European Painting, by Jennifer Meagher, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


In contemporary art this practice continues – for example, in Kehinde Wiley’s recent portrait of Barack Obama, the flowers relate to the former US president’s personal history. Kehinde’s paintings often reference the European historical painting tradition but he recasts contemporary African Americans as the main protaganists. It is interesting the way the plants surround and interact with the people in Kehinde’s paintings.

Untended garden in yellow2

I am mindful of the tradition of using plants and flowers to enhance understanding of subject matter when I am painting. I see the nature-printing technique that I use as a collaboration between myself and the materials – the plants, seedheads and petals that go into making an artwork. My paintings are a record of a particular season and the variety of plant species found in an area. But other aspects of the artwork are about emotions, thoughts, ecology and other meanings. I use colour to convey emotions or as an indicator of seasonal shifts. The type of foliage chosen also has significance.

Kowhai and Corokia small

The painting pictured above was made in January using Corokia, Kowhai and Carmichaelia Lilac Bouquet leaves from my garden. My young Carmichaelia plant is in a shady spot and has yet to produce flowers – I’m hoping it will bloom next spring. I intended the cool, calm greens and blues of this painting to be soothing and reassuring and for foliage to embrace the viewer from above and below.

Lichen and Kauri in the studio

This year I am planning a series of work using Kauri. In the Auckland region this ancient tree species is under threat from disease. The council and local iwi have decided to close a large area of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park to try and stop the spread of the disease among existing Kauri trees. It will interesting to research this topic and to work with Kauri.

Ferns in blue postcard

I am participating in the Twitter Art Exhibit, an annual exhibition for charity that has been running since 2008. It is in Canberra this year and benefits the Pegasus Riding for the Disabled charity. My postcard for the exhibition is entitled Huruwhenua (Fern) and is pictured above.

I also did another small postcard on Waitangi Day (pictured below) which I’ll put on the Corokia Studio shop. Thanks to those who have purchased my art and Corokia Studio printables over the summer, it all helps me continue to buy materials and make art.

Waitangi day postcard