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A recent day-trip to London to see the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition at the RHS Lindley Halls also allowed ISBA member Elaine Moore Mackey to take in Jess Shepherd’s ‘Leafscape’ Exhibition on its last day. Here, Elaine provides an excerpt from her review of both exhibitions, which is published in full in Síolta 2017.
My first stop was at RHS Lindley Halls to see one of the most revered exhibitions in the business. This is botanical illustration at its highest level, attracting the best artists from around the world. With the forthcoming group entry from ISBA artists in mind, I stopped first at the exhibit by the Denver School of Botanical Art and Illustration, ‘Rocky Mountains: Plants and Fungi with Altitude’. This comprehensive and very informative project won a Gold Medal from the RHS. It was a great example of a successful group exhibit.
Part of the group exhibit from Denver School of Botanical Art and Illustration
ISBA member Patricia Newman was there with her silver medal-winning exhibit, ‘An Irish Garden’. Patricia completed an amazing nine paintings for this delicate and absorbing exhibit; her signature style combining watercolour and graphite found me nose to nose with each painting, marvelling at the detail. Patricia has exhibited at the RHS before, and at the Hunt Institute, but after a break of some years, she confirmed she is looking forward to entering again. I look forward to seeing more of her work.
Five of the nine paintings in Patricia Newman’s exhibit, ‘In an Irish Garden’.
The winner of best exhibit and a deserved gold medal was a stand-out exhibit ‘Pandanus’ by Mareko Ikeda from Japan. Ikeda illustrated the fruits of the some of the screwpine family in a striking and beautifully painted series of paintings. It was worth noting the excellent presentation labelling which plays such a big part in winning a gold medal at the RHS.
Other notable exhibits were: Bridget Gillespie’s wonderful ‘Root Vegetables – Life Cycle’ (her beetroot painting won Best Painting); Annie Hughes’ ‘Eucalyptus of Western Australia’; and Keiko Fujita’s ‘Growth of Bamboo in Japan’. Kathy Pickles’ ‘Clematis’ also won her a seventh gold medal, an amazing achievement.
Bridget Gillespie’s ‘Root Vegetables – Life Cycle’
This was my first visit to the RHS show, and I was struck by how much white space there was on some of the paintings, which distracted me from the detailed and undoubtedly accomplished work of some of the artists. But perhaps I needed some time to adjust to and fully appreciate pure botanical illustration. When compared to, for example, the Society of Botanical Artists annual exhibition, the RHS is definitely science-heavy and a hall full of intricate and accurate botanical illustration requires many hours of examination. Indeed, visiting such shows provides a humbling reality check for anyone considering, even in the distant future, submitting work for the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition. As an experienced observer of botanical art and illustration pointed out, these are the best artists in the world, competing for some of the most coveted medals in this field.
After lunch I made my way to Bloomsbury to visit Jessica Shepherd’s ‘Leafscape’ solo exhibition. I have been following Jess’s progress over the past two years and have been amongst many who are amazed at the volume and quality of her singular work. Leafscape was inspired by the finding of a pavement-battered leaf on a London street and grew into a collection of more than thirty paintings of found leaves. Jess has incorporated a soundscape into the exhibition and it plays as you peruse the giant painted leaves. Again, I found myself pressing my nose close to the paintings, taking in the minutest details that Jess has captured. I was genuinely a bit speechless when I met her, being just a bit overwhelmed by the scale, finesse and sheer beauty of the work.
One of Jess Shepherd’s ‘found’ leaves
Jess’s greatest achievement is of course the paintings, which challenge the traditions of botanical art with more than a nod to the super-realistic detail of masters like Rory McEwen. But she also managed to raise more than enough to produce two books of the show via a Kickstarter campaign, and sold all but three of the works. I contributed and look forward to receiving my flat-bound, boxed Leafscape book, with the accompanying soundtrack. It will be a treasured keepsake of this stunning show.