‘The human being is the most adaptable animal’.
This was one of my Dad’s favourite sayings, usually quoted as he stood washing dishes looking out the kitchen window at the birds, the hedgerows and the fields here on the outskirts of Kilkenny in the south east of Ireland. He had a fascination for nature, people and all of life so who knows what thoughts he mused over as he reached for his synopsis of Darwinian theory.
Had he lived, Dad would have been ninety this past week. I’ve wondered over the past few months what he would have made of the huge challenges we have been faced with. I think, like so many, he would have been wise, resilient, resourceful, self reliant but empathetic and very conscious of others. He would have adapted. We’ve all had to adapt, to change our plans, our ways of working and being – with the hope of better things to come.
Wintering Out- Acanthus mollis
As a botanical artist, I am fascinated by the notion of temporal change in the plant world. Every moment in the life cycle of a plant is just that, a moment in time, even when it seems that all life has left the plant, change continues to occur. The dynamism of growth, from the first sprouting of a seed to the last moment of change in colour and form of the dying plant, utterly captivates me.
While walking in Birr Castle Demesne last winter, I was captivated by the shiny gloriously coloured seedpods of the acanthus as it faded back into the herbaceous border. Moving from warm yellows to greens and into inky deep blues, I was drawn in both by the colours but also by the complex twisty spiked forms. From the first moment this acanthus caught my eye, I thought of the Seamus Heaney anthology ‘Wintering Out’. How apt that his words ‘if we can winter this one out we can summer anywhere’ have encouraged us during these challenging days.
Initially, I intended to make a botanical illustration of Nerines bowdenii. However, life and other commitments prevented me from following my original intention. I kept the flowers in my studio and after about two months I realised that they had continued to change into the most mesmerising colours and forms. I was completely blown away by their beauty as they became more and more frail and delicate in the process of dying.
Bountiful- Punica granatum ‘Nana’
Bountiful- Punica granatum ‘Nana’ is twice life size. It captures some pomegranates with one dangling precariously from a tree. I found them growing in El Poble Nou, Barcelona, where I was teaching botanical art during autumn 2019. I just couldn’t take my eyes from the jewel like seeds glistening in the fruits. Having completed numerous sketches in situ and taken lots of colour notes and photographs to record details, I began to work on the painting back in my studio at home in Ireland.
It’s been a work in progress over the past few months when life has changed for us all. It brought me to the warmth and colour of the streets in Barcelona and to other pomegranate trees, particularly those I’ve seen in Skiathos in Greece where I first fell in love with pomegranates. It’s brought me to the warmth of the people I’ve met in those places. It’s been a place of solace and focus, a beckoning force taking me to a place apart when there was nowhere else. It’s been a place of joy and solace as I worked in my studio listening to stories on the radio of sickness and death – of resilience, togetherness and hope.
Wintering Out – Acanthus mollis, is currently showing in ‘Through the Artist’s Eye – Birr Castle Demesne’. www.birrcastle.com
Nerines bowdenii and Punica granatum ‘Nana’ will both be shown in ‘Exploring Botany – Botanical Art from Europe and Japan, Past and Present’, The Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, Krakow, Poland. The exhibition will open when current restrictions have been lifted in Poland. www.manggha.pl