The secret life of plants

The secret life of plants

Suzanne Newton and other artists from the Southern Printmakers Association explore the secret life of plants.

1 May, 2021
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A

From top:

Carol Shaw, Silhouette I & II, 2021, monotype stencil prints with collage, AP – not editioned, 28.5 x 19.5 cm unframed

Laura Stark, After the Fire II Regeneration, 2020, collagraph and solar plate intaglio, edition of 2, 57 x 76 cm

Nicole Low, They come out at Dusk, 2020, solar plate print, edition of 6, 14.5 x 15.5 cm

Lorraine Avery, The Secret Life of Plants to Adapt, Endure, Survive, 2020, carborundum collagraph relief print and stitching, printed on Hahnemuhle, 78 x 53 cm.

Christine Druitt-Preston, A Special Spot – Gulgamree, Mudgee, 2018, lino block print on Wenzhou paper, edition of 5, 50 x 69 cm

Q: What were some of the foundation ideas you began with when embarking on this exhibition project?

The aftermath of the Black Summer of 2019-20 revealed the miracle of our native flora. Through blackened trunks new life sprang forth. In the same year, lockdown caused our lives to slow. Many of us found hope in our own gardens and in the natural beauty of our surroundings. For this exhibition, artists of the Southern Printmakers Association explored an aspect of plant life which may be not widely known – a secret.

With more than 391,000 species of plants in the world and on average 2000 new plant species discovered each year, the prints in this exhibition represent a wide range of concepts.

Q: How did the artwork selection take place?

All members of the Southern Printmakers Association were eligible to participate. Twenty-nine artists took part, the highest level of participation ever for a SPA group exhibition. A space restriction was imposed, whereby each artist could produce a work or series of works within a wall space of one lineal metre.

Adhering to the theme, unified framing and labelling and contracting a professional installer, all contributed to creating a cohesive exhibition, while maintaining the uniqueness of each artist’s creative practice.

Q: How does the exhibition manifest – what do visitors experience?

The Hazelhurst Arts Centre is on 1.4 hectares of gardens. Visitors have views to the gardens from within the Broadhurst Gallery. The exhibition continues the experience of the natural world into the gallery, with visitors surrounded with art depicting the natural world. The breadth and depth of work demonstrates a wide range of printmaking techniques and subject matter, with work in colour and monochrome.

The exhibition also features a collaborative work by SPA artists. Inspired by The Wall of Wings in The Overwintering Project, SPA artists created a Wall of Leaves, on the gallery’s curved feature wall. The leaves are pinned to the wall and move within the breezeway. The Wall of Leaves harnessed a simple idea to create a collaborative statement piece about the diversity of the plant world. Artists were asked to create 20 or more individual cut leaves for display, using any printmaking method. The leaves were to be no more than 40 cm, printed in the natural colour of the leaf and on paper of 200gsm or more.

Sourcing the right shape and leaf for the project was a meditative experience for many of the artists. They reported that wherever they went in the lead up to the exhibition, they would be looking for leaves to print, contemplating shapes, uses and identity.  One member commented that ‘it was like looking at the landscape of my suburb with renewed purpose’.

Q: What are some of the key works and what subject matter do they deal with?

Participating artists approached the theme in creative and thoughtful ways. Bushfires and the regenerative powers of our natural flora feature strongly. Laura Stark captures this concept with a stunning portrait of the native grass tree, regenerating after the savagery of fire. Several artists, including Nicole Low and Kim Whitbread, explore the importance of the interrelationship between insects and plants, while other artists, including Sol Pandiella-McCleod, explore the concept of the intertwined lives of humans and plants. Lorraine Avery reveals the hidden life of gardens in the Middle Ages and the prevalent use of what modern society deems to be weeds. Her work comprises 20 collagraph prints stitched together. Carole Shaw explores the theme of botanical shapes, stripping back plants to their basic forms in a series of stencil prints. Christine Druitt-Preston presents a more personal insight, depicting a ‘secret spot’ in the garden for relaxation and reflection.

Other works explore scientific discoveries, medicinal uses, historical and personal significance, and unusual attributes. In short, what was a secret became a cause for celebrating the plant universe.

The Secret Life of Plants is at Broadhurst Gallery, Hazelhurst Arts Centre, 782 Kingsway, Gymea, NSW until 12 May.


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