So, while botanical illustration was an artefact of scientific study and exploration in the 1700s and 1800s (which of course has its own cultural baggage), now it serves another function. In the exhibition catalogue, artist Vicki Thomas refers to this as the “second golden age of botanical art”.
Botanical Art Worldwide is a part of a global series of parallel events in which 25 countries simultaneously show exhibitions of indigenous plants. In each exhibition, there are screens showing slides of a selection of works from the other exhibitions around the world alongside local works.
Part of the motivation for this worldwide event is to “call attention to the importance of conserving our botanical diversity”. In the exhibition’s emphasis on conservation lies the most common explanation for the recent resurgence of interest in botanical art. Contemporary concerns about the environment have fuelled people’s interest in plants. But there is something else going on.
This exhibition, like Exact Imagination, includes works of contemporary art that engage with botanical themes. If the impulse behind this exhibition was to bolster the sense of the relevance of botanical art in the art world more broadly, Botanical Art Worldwide actually appears to have turned the tables on it.
Among the 83 botanical artists showing are local stalwarts of the field who have been at it since the 20th century – such as Elsa Pooley, Barbara Pike, Ann Harris, Gillian Condy, Sally Townsend – but there are many younger (or sometimes just newer) artists, too. (Some of the works by the likes of Jenny Hyde Johnson, Jenny Phaero, Farhat Iqbal, Chris Lochner, Janet Snyman and Sibonelo Chiliza, to pick out a completely unfair, subjective selection of striking works, are simply astounding.) Also, it’s worth noting many of these artists come to botanical art via other artistic disciplines. There are fine artists, graphic designers, ceramicists, illustrators… you name it.