Artistic roots

• Artist Vanessa Liebenberg.

A PYROGRAPHER illustrating a book for the Duchess of York and an artist who fled Kuwait during the Gulf War are just some of the fascinating folk exhibiting at Botanica.

Held at Moores Gallery in Fremantle, the exhibition features ten local artists who examine the relationship between humans and plants using mediums like print making, ceramics and illustration.

Jacek Gonsalves used the 19th century cyanotype technique to create stunning Prussian blue images of plants.

The technique involves placing plants against sheets of paper coated with the sensitising cyanotype solution and then exposing them to sunlight.

Growing up in Kuwait, plants were a bit mysterious to Gonsalves, as there was hardly any of them in the desert.

“Most days were spent indoors in air conditioning due to dust storms and the searing heat,” he says.

“I recollect a childhood glimpsing at a distant oasis with green overgrowth, but soon to recognise a mirage. 

“Our family relocated to Perth in 1990 due to the Gulf war, I was thrilled to be in an environment filled with native flora and an abundant foliage. 

“I remember looking forward to my first spring outdoors, only to quickly discover hayfever and once again to be sent indoors behind sealed shut windows.”

The cyanotype process was invited in 1841 by Sir John Herschel, a a botanist and scientist who wanted to document herbarium specimens without a camera, and was also used in the 1920s as a way of preserving technical drawings like blueprints.

Another artist using an obscure technique is Vanessa Liebenberg, who creates rich and detailed pieces using a combination of screen printing, mixed media and pyrography (decorating wood with burn marks).

Liebenberg is currently illustrating a children’s book written by the Duchess of York. Set in the English countryside, it’s an inspiring story of kindness and features a wise grandmother and forest animals. The Duchess sent photos and videos of the forest around where she lives to Vanessa, who used them to bring the characters to life. 

At the opposite end of the art spectrum from fluffy bunnies is artist Natasha Lea.

She’s lived a colourful and busy life, somehow cramming in being a book illustrator, mother, fashion designer, wedding gown tailor, sell-out artist, picture framer and mural and tattoo artist.

These days Lea works mainly in pen, markers and Japanese calligraphy brushes to create detailed artwork with a vivid, surreal vibe.

“During the times of my sell-out art exhibitions, art was my therapy as I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty in my life and it really showed in my art,” she says. “My characters had sad expressions and a certain vulnerability. 

“As I got older and wiser, my sad girl drawings started to transform into all kinds of girls – stronger, bolder more independent girls. 

“My drawings literally come to me in my dreams, I have such short-broken sleep that my dreams are like movies.”

Botanica 2021 is at The Moores Gallery on Henry Street until June 6.

By STEPHEN POLLOCK

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