Thinking and reflecting on biodiversity, rewilding, reforestation and the interactions between native and introduced plant species have prompted many of the plant combinations used in my recent artworks.
Over winter the shorter daylight hours and colder weather mean that I source foliage closer to home, often from my backyard and the very steep, overgrown gully behind the back fence. Our bush gully is a jungle of native species, weeds and forgotten garden plants from many years ago. A marvellous old pink camellia tree tangled with runaway jasmine provides food and shelter for many birds in these months. This winter I have been experimenting with some nature printing using camellias and including weeds and other garden escapees in the artworks.
We have planted some native trees and harakeke (New Zealand flax) in the gully over the past few years. In a city experiencing rapidly increasing urbanisation where sometimes it can feel as though developers are closing in on all sides, this small slice of sloping land is for now a haven for wildlife and city children in the warmer months.
Camellias, also known as the rose of winter, offer some welcome colour at this time of year and are very popular in New Zealand gardens. I used some of the candy cane variety, hebe and a weedy vine called Great Bindweed in the picture (detail) below.
In May I finished up my artworks made with coastal plants from Tamaki Estuary. It was interesting to revisit some localities around the river and to see how the ecosystem is faring a couple of years after my first research and artwork in this area. Despite challenges in the form of pollution and erosion there is an abundance life in and around the estuary and I was reminded of this many times when I visited – seeing fish jumping, birds foraging, insects everywhere and the resilient endemic plant species in protected areas surviving, and in some cases thriving.
Mānawa, Wīwī and Ureure (Mangroves, Knobbly Club Rush and Samphire) – Detail
Leaving Tahuna Torea one day I collected some leaves from introduced and native species near the nature reserve and made an A3 size picture from them. (detail below) Often there is an element of chance in my artwork, as sometimes I will discover some new plant species to use for nature printing depending on where I walk and what I find on the way. This part of the creative process can be really useful, it helps to keep me inspired and discourages perfectionism. Perfectionism can paralyse creativity and when working closely with nature one has to be open to chaos, complexity, abundance and wildness.
In autumn I made another small painting on paper using foliage from the Savage Memorial and Bastion Point/Takaparawhau. I have been following with interest the replanting and growth of the forest planted there by Ngāti Whātua. Replanting of native species is also planned for areas of the Purewa valley from the Kepa bush area down to the Orakei Basin.
A local area that I visit often is St Heliers, where there are two massive old Moreton Bay Fig trees. I made a painting recently using leaves from these and some found in the hedge nearby. The artwork is a mix of Moreton Bay Fig, brambles, asparagus fern and other foliage. The fig leaf colouring is really beautiful, a mix of dark olive green and shades of copper and bronze underneath.
I was fortunate to visit the Auckland Art Fair, the Gus Fisher Gallery and the Francis Hodgkins European Journeys exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery over the past two months. There were plenty of interesting plant details in the artworks at the Auckland Art Fair and in the Frances Hodgkins exhibition, some of these I have shared in my Instagram stories.
The Frances Hodgkins exhibition has prompted some thinking about colour and form for me which I will continue explore in my work over winter and beyond.
Winter viruses have hit hard this year and I’ve had a couple of rounds already so I’ve had some time whilst recovering to catch up on some of my favourite websites. If you are interested in all things botanical then I recommend the The Planthunter. To catch up on general international art world news I read The Art Newspaper, which also offers some podcasts. For pure joy it is always fascinating to see what is blooming on the other side of the world – you can see Piet Oudulf’s gardens through the seasons on Instagram, and I also like the small scale indoor garden world of James Wong, The Botany Geek. When painting inspiration is needed there are wonderful images online from the collection of The Van Gogh Museum.
Rewilding has been controversial overseas as it can involve the reintroduction of larger predators into environments. To find out more about rewilding here are a couple of links: rewilding in Britain and in New Zealand.
Kia pai tō tatou Matariki – Happy Matariki (Maori New Year) from New Zealand.