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Notes on Indigene
In this new series of paintings, Indigene, I have been making my own exploration of our indigenous flora, experiencing some of the wonder that Dampier perhaps felt as he peered at the tiny flowers at Shark Bay.
The first explorers and botanists who came to this country must have felt they had stumbled upon a vast unclassified museum that had been held in tact for millennia by its sheer isolation - flowers shaped by time, evolving naturally over thousands of years.
Living in outer Melbourne where traces of our natural environment are still in tact, I’ve become increasingly aware of how precious these areas are. And after the 2009 bush fires - even more so. My eyes suddenly opened to the tiny flowers I see on my walks along the Yarra River near our home and quickly became a source of inspiration for this new series of paintings.
I started to go on flower hunting expeditions of my own and the more I looked the more I found - I have collected flowers from many sources now including native gardens such as Karwarra and the Maranoa gardens, private gardens and nurseries.
Soon after Australia was ‘discovered’ by Europeans, the French undertook some major journeys of exploration to Australia. They sent botanists, scientists, naturalists here to collect samples to cultivate and study on their return to France.
The flower painter Redoute was commissioned by Empress Josephine at Malmaison to paint many Australian native flowers which were brought back to France from the journeys of Baudin and D’Entrecasteaux in the early 1800s. Some of the earliest images of Australian flora are by such European masters of botanical art as Redoute and Ferdinand Bauer.
I have been able to study their work in the Rare Book collection at the State Library of Victoria - exquisite hand coloured engravings, painstakingly executed with mastery of drawing and elegance of line. They exemplify the spirit of enquiry that was part of the Age of Enlightenment - the drive to record, name and classify. Looking at our early botanical art reinforces a sense of value of the uniqueness and rarity of our native treasures.
Now concerns are more with preservation,conservation and cultivation – yet behind this are the same concerns with the irreplaceable, the unique value of our native flora.
While painting I discovered that behind many of the names of the flowers are the stories of our history too. I was curious to find that the beautiful blue Lechenaultia biloba is named after Jean Baptiste Leschenault de La Tour who was a botanist on Baudin’s expedition and that the exquisite pale pink Guichenotia lediolia, which I am also painting was named after Antoine Guichenot who was the ‘gardener’s boy’ on the Baudin expedition and helped collect the plants for Leschenault de La Tour.
All this history forms a background to my paintings, but more than anything else it is the flowers themselves that have been a revealation to me. It is not until you hold one of these tiny blooms in your hand and start to look into it closely that it reveals itself.
The unique forms, colours and textures are a source of inspiration, but something much more than that…. it has been in the process of looking and painting that I have fallen under the spell of these flowers.…