The depiction of the floral in art has been an enduring theme for artists of all eras and genres. Latin for ‘many flowers’ Floribunda is an exhibition that also represents contemporary practitioners who are drawn to flora as an allegory for broader concerns; including birth, death, sex, the environment and connection to Country.
In the Golden Age of Dutch painting still life works of art from the 17th century used elements such as flowers, skulls and decaying fruit as abundant and visceral symbols of the fragility of life, representing ideas of Vanitas and Memento Mori. WB Gould and Tom Roberts’ works of art in the Newcastle Art Gallery collection reference this art history canon; as does contemporary New Zealand artist Peter Madden with his blooms ‘exploding’ from a walking stick.
Paralleled in this exhibition are works of art by contemporary Aboriginal practitioners signifying connection to Country. As a descendant of the Mamu/Ngadjoni people of Northern Queensland, Danie Mellor’s works of art often focus on the rainforest and hinterland of this region contrasted with the use of mezzotint printmaking. Utopia artists’ Gloria Petyarre and Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s plant dreaming connections are reflected in their masterful paintings.
Fiona Hall’s sculpture series Paradisis Terrestrius, Xanthorrhoea Australis/black boy c.1990 depict plant species juxtaposed with human anatomy as wry commentary on botany and language. In contrast Michael Zavros’s work of art underpins a fascination with vanity and the pursuit of bodily perfection by fusing gym-junkie paraphernalia and endangered floral species in bronze sculpture. Also exhibited are delicate works on paper by Margaret Preston, Ellis Rowan, Thea Proctor and new acquisitions by contemporary photographer Tamara Dean, repositioning traditional notions of the nude and floral in art.
Floribunda features diverse works of art drawn exclusively from the Newcastle Art Gallery collection across mediums such as drawing, painting, photography and sculpture by practitioners dating from the 1800s to the present day.
Banner Image: Gloria PETYARRE Untitled (leaves) 2001 acrylic on polyester 185.0 x 400.0cm Gift of the Croll family 2007 Newcastle Art Gallery collection Courtesy the artist