The Plant Project:
A modest rather tatty notebook caught my attention during a commission call-out event for artists and curators to work with the collection held at the Young Gallery, Salisbury, as part of their preSENSE project – raising awareness and reaching a wider audience. It contained the delicate observational drawings from nature by Robin Tanner. Undoubtedly some were preparatory sketches for the books about plants to be found locally, in particular, ‘Woodland Plants’, which he produced with his wife Heather. Being appointed as guest curator for the preSENSE project allowed me to explore this further.
From the beginning of Western painting, artists have depicted flora in images ranging widely in subject and aspiration, from devotional images in the Scriptures, to still lifes, portraits, and subjects from mythology and secular history. Beyond their decorative properties, plant life usually had a symbolic significance or association that related to the subject of the painting. A plant could be depicted as an attribute, alluding to the identity of the subject or sitter, or as providing a metaphysical presentation on the theme. Even the houseplant in recent years has matured from clichéd ornamental into contemporary symbolic ground. Plant reference by the artist provides a microcosm for our connection with nature.
I wanted to extend ideas beyond the recordings of the delicate plant studies of Robin Tanner into a wider context; celebrating the expanding genres that the presence of flora occupies.
This exhibition, inspired by the work of Robin Tanner, shows what samples exist of works from this artist within the collection, as well as showcasing a more current practise of plant portraiture. The inclusion of works by contemporary artists creates an energy and dialogue with the juxtaposing of styles, which is why pieces from the collection held at The Young Gallery are woven together with pieces from invited artists, sculptors, makers and photographers.
Personal highlights for me with The Plant Project include very enjoyable studio visits to meet new artists and re-engaging with some old ones, choosing pieces of work together and developing what I hope is an interesting show. I have loved the generous spirit shown by the participating artists and appreciated their involvement in the project with suggestions, recommendations and encouragement.
The Plant Project blog is where I post contributions on a weekly basis and is about making a record of these studio visits, sharing choices of art featuring flora from artists and gardeners, collaborations, and the process of all the preparations for the exhibition. Past and present posts can be followed here
Peter Riley, Curator at The Young Gallery has been generous with his time and contacts, and I’m grateful for his help and continued support. I would like to thank Meril Morgan and Annette Ratuszniak for their guidance and Sue Newnham at Salisbury Printing for her expertise. Thanks too to Becky Twigg of BeesKnees who runs a unique online community project dedicated to wildlife conservation and celebration of nature on our doorsteps.
I would like to thank Julia Atkinson who, besides exhibiting her own work, will be presenting a talk on Saturday 7 March at 2.30 titled ’From natural perfection to human design’ illustrating the way in which plant details have been stylised by different societies through history into architecture, ceramics, textiles, illustration and painting as well as talking about gardens; which are an art in themselves
Invited artists are Julia Atkinson, Julie Ayton, Catherine Bloomfield, Henny Burnett, Fran Donovan, Susan Francis, Gary Hume, Linn O’Carroll and Peter Randall-Page.
Works from the Collection and borrowed pieces include: John Bellany, Prunella Clough, Mat Collishaw, Michael Cullimore, Dame Elisabeth Frink, Caroline Hyman, John Piper, Keith Rand, Eric Ravilious, Robin Tanner & Stephen Tennant.
The exhibition at the Young Gallery Salisbury ends on 11 April 2015. Opening times can be viewed online.
Pru Maltby, PreSENSE project guest curator