President’s letter

Published 07/09/16 | by Brian Bainbridge 

Do sugar flowers belong on the cover of Indigenotes? 

I THINK SO. Committee member Karen McGregor’s creations illustrate how the flora and fauna around us inspires humanity’s artistic response and how our art, in turn, deepens our engagement with nature. 

During a trip to Turkey and Europe in 2008 I was entranced by depictions of flora through many layers of history. Flora and fauna flourished in Roman and Byzantine murals, mosaics and frescoes, and in Celtic bronzes and Ottoman Iznik tiles; creating biodiverse hotspots within dusty museums and archeological sites. Flora and fauna twined through lace curtains and etched crystal chandeliers in the 19th century palaces. Hundreds of terracotta animals and plants clambered over the walls of the British Natural History Museum and in the Victoria and Albert museum I gazed on Elizabethan embroidery alive with flowers and insects. 

Comparing artwork allows us to compare different ways of seeing flora and fauna. Art explores how we feel about things. For the artist, the process of creating is a bridge to understanding their surroundings and their place within it. Decoration, craft and illustration may explore similar territory while fulfilling aims that are more utilitarian. Representational art is most readily understood this way but stylized and conceptual representation can provide different paths to heighten perception of an organism or ecosystem. Linda Trigg’s ‘Grassland’ installation on the steps of the State Library, featured in the last issue of Indigenotes, was a striking example of conceptual art. It conjured feelings about our recent ecological history for the artist and for thousands of onlookers. 

One of the early developers of the ‘biophilia’ concept, Dr Stephen Kellert, writes; “…many view perceptions of beauty or physical attraction to the natural world as capricious, merely reflecting prevailing tastes, fashions, or cultural bias. As a consequence, aesthetic views of nature are often regarded as only marginally relevant to issues of human well-being [. . .] despite the apparent ubiquity of an aesthetic attraction to nature among seemingly all people and cultures”

The concept of biophilia suggests we may have a deep-seated drive to seek connection to nature and our aesthetic response has a biological, evolutionary and developmental significance. This theory asserts that being in nature benefits human physical and mental wellbeing. Surrounding ourselves with depictions of nature is perhaps an essential surrogate where the real thing is unavailable. 

Karen’s description of seeking the essence of different local plants in the medium of sugar reminded me of how my own practice of wildlife illustration feels like ‘dancing’ with flora and fauna. I tense my body and hold my breath as I seek to capture the line of a slender grass stem and I sprawl as my hand loops lazily around the wavy outline of a Swamp Gum’s leaf. A bond forms and one never again looks on that plant or animal with indifference. 

The local flora and fauna we protect and recover sometimes provides a muse for artistic response. The artists create paths towards awareness of how nature shapes the human body, mind and spirit. I hope you enjoy Indigenotes’ occasionally straying down these paths! 

Kellert, Stephen 2002 Aldo Leopold and the Value of Nature. In Aldo Leopold and the Ecological Conscience. Richard Knight and Suzanne Riedel (Eds.) Oxford University Press Inc. New York p. 130 

Brian Bainbridge