Even if you claim to know nothing about the art world, you likely recognize a few major works. Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” Monet’s “Water Lilies,” or Georgia O’Keefe’s “Poppy” all ring a bell, right? Well then, congratulations, you’re already familiar with botanical painting.
An artist can take many routes when creating botanicals: a coldly beautiful, yet incredibly accurate drawing of the style found in botany textbooks. A soft and dreamy impressionistic watercolour. A vivid acrylic macro that throws every detail into sharp relief and allows for minute inspection.
Among the 64 paintings that make up “Painting in the Garden,” a group show featuring 29 artists on now at MUN Botanical Garden, you’ll find virtually every variation on the theme.
Marilyn Coady has produced a lovely monotype entitled “Impressions of Summer.” It’s one of those pieces that holds your interest over time (a quality to look for in any art you purchase) with overlapping layers of delicate floral elements. While the prevailing red tones are muted, the piece as a whole is quite vibrant.
Omar Jaramillo Traverso has delivered a work quite in line with what one might expect to find at a botanical show. He’s taken up his watercolours to capture the classic arrangement of a mixed bouquet in a vessel. Lightening the mood is his choice of flowers — they are more workaday blooms than the oft-chosen rose or orchid — and their casual placement.
Joan Roberts also goes the watercolour route, but has chosen to execute her single bloom study with an intensity of colour. A deep blue serves as the perfect backdrop to her delicious blending of yellow and oranges tones. Roberts has two other pieces in the show: another watercolour and an encaustic. The three are titled “Special Effects,” “Jovial” and “Flair.”
Barbara Burnaby’s submission stands out from the others quite dramatically. Rather than a detailed study of an individual or group of flowers, her work is a landscape. But more striking is her color choice — the piece is executed in stark black and white. Strong lines continue the bold theme, creating a sense of movement and impermanence. You can almost hear the wind blow as you stand before the frame.
Like Burnaby, Sylvia Bendzsa has also taken chances with her color choice. Her piece, “Lost in the Canadian Wilderness,” is made up only of subdued blue, green and black. It appears to be her interpretation of a section of ground (Or is it water? You be the judge.) with stones jutting through the plant cover.
Julie Duff’s three pieces, “Echinacea,” “Foxglove” and “The Rose,” show a great deal of confidence in their vibrancy. Though small in scale, Duff’s choice of subject and intense colour punch add up for serious impact. She’s really managed to capture the joy that flowers bring us with these three works.
At the heart of “Painting in the Garden” is artist and teacher Joyce Cho.
“I’ve been with (the Botanical Garden) for a long time; I was with the horticultural group there. And always, there were flowers all around. That’s what led me into botanical art,” said Cho, who has four watercolour pieces on display.
Cho took her interest and turned it into a passion.
“Today, I’m in the American Society of Botanical Art. There are people from the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Scotland and all around the world. We meet once a year and exchange ideas,” she said.
Cho spreads the love here in Newfoundland by orchestrating painting groups and workshops at the Botanical Garden. The pieces found in this show are the result of one such group. “They’re not all botanical artists, but they are all artists,” is how she describes its members.
MUN allows the painters free run of the garden, but extends another great courtesy by permitting them to use some indoor space as well. And in the less than lush winter months, Cho says the staff will even bring flowers for them to paint.
Monique Maynard, special events co-ordinator at the garden notes that they embrace such artistic pursuits.
“We open up to people who want to do paintings revolving around nature and the gardens,” she said. “Landscapes, that sort of thing.”
She adds that there’s also benefit to her organization.
“It attracts people to the garden as well. People who might not otherwise have come.”
The show is housed within a meeting space at the garden, so people are encouraged to call ahead if possible to ensure access. Of course, the Gardens have a great deal on offer beyond these paintings, so why not plan to make an afternoon of it? Stroll the trails and take lunch at the on-site café. A day spent amongst such beauty is simply good for the soul.
For more details, call MUN Botanical Garden at 864-8590 or visit www.mun.ca/botgarden.