Princess Parrot/Sceptre Banksia, Peter Slater 1978/Celia Rosser 1974-2000

Section
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
Chapter
1.7 Paintings
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1.7.8

I feel it wouldn’t be fair to have a section on ‘Nature paintings’ that doesn’t include scientific wildlife and botanical artists. Theirs is such a rich field and they have made such an important contribution to our understanding and appreciation of Nature that it is hard to know where to start.

One of my favourite possessions is a print of the exquisite Princess Parrot by Australian wildlife artist and ornithologist, Peter Slater. It is a deliberately formal portrayal, and one might see it as overly so, and therefore old-fashioned and constrained, but as Peter says: “I have chosen a very formal posture because any other seems to me inadequately to express its characteristic dignified elegance. I can think of no other bird with the same perfection of proportion. In colouration it epitomises the inland – the olive of mulga trees, the yellow-green of fresh spinifex, the pink and blue of hazy distance”.1

Their subtle beauty is enhanced by their rarity and elusiveness, living in Australia’s remotest deserts. It has been a life-long ambition to see one in the wild, but I have not achieved it yet.

Scientific ‘illustration’ at its best doesn’t shackle or deplete the subject with its imposition of external strictures of pose, field marks, taxonomy, illumination and detail; rather, it celebrates and lifts the subject into the most favourable ‘light’ in an act of reverence.

Celia Rosser has sometimes been called ‘The Banksia Lady’ because of her dedication to, and identification with, the distinctive Banksia genus of plants in Australia (Banksias are characterful species of often gnarly shrubs and trees with wonderful woody cones and large flower spikes). As a young mother with her car bogged in sand she saw her first Banksia and had the most intense personal response: “It was the most amazing reaction I’d ever had in my life. ‘That is what I’ve been looking for’, I thought. ‘That was it’,” recalls Celia.2

She then began the long journey of over 25 years to illustrate every known species (77 sp. at the time) in a magnificent, three-volume monograph of watercolours. To say that this required determination as well as skill is an understatement, but Celia had – as we have noticed so many times in T10 – entered another world, the world of Nature, and it seems that he ability to ‘look’ so intently was her gift of entry: As a botanical artist, you’ve got to have the ability to see correctly what’s in front of you. Some people, they want to take a photograph, so they are not using their own brain. You need to be able to stand back and look at the plant, to work out to opposites in the spectrum of colours, for example … My dad was a master builder. He taught me to be a ‘looker’,”.2

Her gift to us has been to make us look, to draw us more and more deeply into the intricate world of the Banksia, to the surprise and delight and design of Nature.

 

1 Slater, P. 1978. Rare and Vanishing Australian Birds. Rigby, Melbourne, Australia.

2 Banksias: The artwork of Celia Rosser – Australia Post (australiapostcollectables.com.au)

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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