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Review of The RHS Art & Photography Show 2023

Following the success of the 2021 and 2022 editions, the annual RHS exhibition returns this Summer to The Saatchi Gallery and showcases new work from leading botanical artists and photographers across three galleries.


Sarah Gardner, Emma van Klaveren and Elanor Wexler attended the opening press event and launch evening of the show and have written this review which focusses on the exhibition as a whole and the four ABA members whose work is on display this year.


The show was also used as an opportunity to launch an exciting RHS competitions which ABA members may wish to enter - details at the end of the review.

 

Rui Jiang's exhibit
Rui Jiang's exhibit

Entries for the show have been through a meticulous pre-selection process, where the scientific accuracy, technical skill and aesthetic appeal of the work are reviewed by an expert judging panel prior to the show opening, with artists and photographers awarded RHS Gold, Silver-Gilt, Silver, and Bronze medals, as well as a series of special awards including ‘Best Botanical Art Exhibit’ and ‘Judge’s Special Award’. In 2023, a diverse range of subjects have been presented by participants from around the world. Artists depict plants of ecological importance including English seaweed and Scottish lichens, Australian Algae, endangered plants of Korea, and wildflowers of Greece. Heritage garden blooms are also featured, sitting together with pictures of fabulous fruit and medicinal herbs.

Saatchi Gallery
Saatchi Gallery

New photography entries in 2023 include works from amateur photographers as well as returning medal-winning exhibitors. The portfolios this year depict a range of photographic styles and chosen subjects ranging from RHS garden landscapes to the gardeners found working in quiet unity within the temple gardens of Kyoto. Former Gold medal-winning exhibitors will also show their work alongside artists participating in the 2023 exhibition for the first time.


The show is a highlight in the calendar of the RHS Lindley Library, complementing its extensive collection of botanical artworks, photographs and illustrations which include more than 30,000 works. Charlotte Brooks, Art Curator at the RHS (for 20 years) and ABA Chair of Trustees says:


“We are very excited to be going into our third year in partnership with the Saatchi Gallery. There is such a wealth of emerging and established talent in the worlds of botanical art and garden photography. It is our pleasure to present new exhibits in these prestigious galleries and help raise the profile of artists and photographers from across the globe.”


Her role as Curator of the show involves managing the pre-selection process and subsequent artists’ selection for the show as well as the artist and Saatchi Gallery liaison.


She’s responsible for arranging the gallery layout along with input from the gallery team, framing, text for labels, overseeing gallery install, de-install and return of artworks to artists.


She works closely with RHS and Saatchi Gallery Press and Marketing teams, as well as the RHS Shows team. She was supported by Julia Glen, Lindley Library Events and Exhibitions Coordinator, who worked alongside her, whilst she was also developing the new series of events at the Library. Charlotte’s dedicated work is the reason why this annual show is so awe-inspiring.


Congratulations to all the exhibitors at the 2023 show. Out of the 40 exhibiting artists, we would like to highlight our four ABA exhibiting artists who all won medals!

 

Gaynor Dickeson

Founding ABA President

  • Lives and works in Norway

  • RHS Medal History, Silver Gilt 2023, 2014, Silver 2011

  • “Foraging plants in the Norwegian Mountains from Bog to Sand”



My research on edible plants in the Norwegian mountains began when I was in the UK. I returned to Norway annually to sketch and explore all aspects of my chosen species.


I combined relevant sketches into compositions I felt would inform most about the plants. Some of them can easily be confused by foragers, so it is important to show their differences. I transferred the compositions to mounted vellum blocks, painting the colour sections mostly with single pigment transparent watercolours, in addition to graphite and underpainting with Chinese White.


Gaynor Dickeson's exhibit
Gaynor Dickeson's exhibit


Elanor caught up with Gaynor at the opening night and had an interesting exchange about her reasons for choosing her subjects and her approach to botanical art and illustration.







“With botanical art one can paint flowers and so forth but with what I do, it verges on botanical illustration so it’s taking it a little bit further. I want people to look at the art because it’s attractive, but then look into the pictures and learn from the pictures too.” They talked about how this ethos relates to her aims when founding ABA; to allow people of all abilities and experience to form a community with a shared interest in botanical art and illustration.


 

Lawrence Hill

ABA member

  • Lives and works in Richmond upon Thames, UK

  • RHS Medal History: Gold 2018, 2017, 2014, Silver-Gilt 2006, Silver 2015, Silver 2023

  • “33 views of fritillaria meleagris”

These six panoramic compositions take the observer through cycles of growth, reproduction, external stimuli and gradations of diversity. They broaden the representational plant image which typically conveys taxonomic and horticultural information. Here elements of ecology and physiology are also presented. In total 157 frames were taken to produce 26 portraits. These had their scales unified before arranging them into six themes.


Elanor was lucky to be able to talk to Laurence about his photography exhibit at the opening night of the show, and he explained his work with enthusiasm and an infectious passion for the scientific aspects of the project. “It’s about capturing a moment that is more important in a way - not just dissected or a view into a flower, it’s actually capturing a physiological aspect that then might feed into it’s environmental or physiological element of where it lives, why it does what it does.” When you look at the six plates Elanor would encourage you to really think about what it is Laurence is showing us in each; you will miss the message if you only give them a cursory glance.

Laurence also explained his process which involves layer stacking and editing to refine, cut out the background and develop composition. The project has been ten years of work and Laurence was drawn to fritillaria for their beauty and to allow him “to try to extract deeper and deeper stories from a single subject”. Laurence’s work made Elanor consider the many hours of research and work that can go into a single work; we know this to be true for botanical art and illustration, but there is a temptation to think that photography is a faster and simpler process which is definitely a misconception.


It was a privilege to discuss Laurence’s work with him and she came away with a huge appreciation for the depth of research and knowledge behind this set of images. Elanor should say that they are also beautiful compositions so make sure you spend some time enjoying these works, along with the rest of the photography exhibit.

 

Rui Jiang

SBAF, ABA member

  • Lives and works in Kent.

  • RHS Medal History Silver Gilt medals in 2023, 2022

  • "Rembrandt Tulips"

It was the book ‘The Tulip’ by Anna Pavord that first brought my attention to this most powerful plant, that led the Netherlands into bankruptcy in 1637. I was fascinated that back then, the price of one tulip bulb could purchase a beautiful house on the canal in Amsterdam! Even these days, old tulips are rare in the UK. I have grown these six extraordinary flowers in my garden, to create these paintings. It was such a privelige to watch them grow, bloom and dance in front of me, as well as read their history and horticultural stories.


Emma contacted Rui to ask about her experience of completing this project:


"Driven by a profound fascination for the Rembrandt Tulips as known as the Broken Tulips and an innate artistic inclination, I made a resolute decision to create a series of paintings that would showcase the beauty and historical significance of these remarkable flowers. I aimed to capture the essence of the tulips that had once mesmerized the world centuries ago.


My journey as a painter unfolded as I delved deep into the research and exploration of Rembrandt Tulips. I meticulously studied the historical records, analyzing the vivid accounts of tulip enthusiasts and cultivators from the past. I was immersed in the tales of their vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and the cultural phenomenon they had inspired. My passion for Rembrandt tulips extended beyond their cultivation.


I immersed myself in the history and significance of these iconic flowers, seeking to understand the artistic inspiration they had provided to the renowned Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn. As I tended to my garden, I often found myself reflecting on the connection between my blooming tulips and the masterful brushstrokes that adorned Rembrandt's canvases."


 

Maggie Niagassas

SBAF, ABA member

  • Lives and works in Thiassalia, Greece

  • RHS Medal History Silver Gilt in 2023, 2018, Silver in 2016

  • Monocots in Greece

I live on the outskirts of Volos, a town situated in the foothills of Mount Pelion, central mainland Greece. Monocots flourish in the Mediteranean climate, well known for dry, hot summers and cold, wet winters and due to the higher altitude where I live, there is increased rainfall and even snowfall occasionally. These climatic conditions are favourable to allow a greater diversity of plants species to grow. My six monocot plants were found in various locations from hedgerows bordering footpaths, to riparian habitats of nearby streams and rivers. Several species were also found in disused ground and olive groves.


Sarah says Maggie Niagassas was brought up in Africa. She was inspired by the vivid colours and forms in nature which would have a lasting impression and influence on her artistic career. She has lived in Greece for 35 years which opened her up to the wonderful cosmos of Mediterranean flora, abundant with species of rich flowering plants. This experience with Mediterranean nature motivated her to study botanical illustration. Sarah contacted Maggie to obtain a little more information about her Monocots in Greece series, asking why she chose those particular subjects, how long it took to complete the six works and what she has learned from her experiences of exhibiting with the RHS. Maggie kindly replied with the following:


"I live in Central mainland Greece. The vegetation (wild Greek Flora) is lush there. It was really easy to choose these plants as they were growing all around the roads and fields near to me. There was a lot of preparation for the six pictures, composition, reading up the botanical details, and of course collecting the specimens. The whole project took me well over a year of intense constant painting, I also had to take into consideration the seasonal changes of the plant growth. I really find exhibiting with the RHS very valuable, feedback from the Judges is very important too. However, I preferred the atmosphere at the older venue in Westminster where meeting up with the other artists and various stands was more personal and we somehow created a bond between us."


 

Impressions of the Show


Elanor was delighted to attend the opening night of the show on an extremely hot summer’s evening. The three galleries were buzzing with visitors including some famous faces from the botanical art world as well as from British television, but the focus was very much on the artists and photographers who have put years of work into their projects. Themes ranged from an environmental focus to personal areas of interest such as the exploration of a single species.


The Saatchi gallery provides an open, light environment in which to enjoy the work and it was good to be able to stand back and see the sets of pictures as well as getting up close to look at detail. Whilst the majority of the work was in watercolour, several artists explored the use of watercolour with graphite, and Hiroko Kita combined watercolour with oil based ballpoint pen. Our own Gaynor Dickeson chose to work on vellum. An interesting addition to the rooms was a screen showing photographs of the artist’s sketchbooks, an insight into their preparations for the projects.

The standard was high but judging was clearly robust and a topic of conversation with exhibitors! Quite a few artists chose to produce more traditional botanical illustrations with dissections, and it is definitely worth looking for Nina Mayes’ exhibit which focused on freshwater plants and showed the specimens above and below the water level. This happened to win Best Botanical Art Exhibit.


Best Botanical Artwork went to Eunike Nugroho for her artwork Hoya latifolia G.Don / Bold under (Sun) Stress; the Judges Special Award went to Hiroko Kita for Japanese Cultivated Evergreen Azalea and Their Parental Species, and finally the Best Portfolio Photography Exhibit was awarded to Irene Stupples for Faded Iris.


We are sure that you will find it well worth a visit!


Tickets and more information are available from

RHS website:


 

RHS Competition Announced


An exciting competition was also announced after the awards were given out. The RHS are looking for an artist in residence to create artworks for the cover if the Plant Review (the RHS magazine) through 2024.

“The competition is open to both amateurs and professionals and entries will be assessed by a panel of judges from the worlds of publishing and botanical art. They will be looking for submissions showing not only botanical accuracy but something of a plant’s character.”





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