Until 17 September this year, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London will host a spectacular exhibition of paintings entitled Plants of the Qur´an by botanical painter Sue Wickison.
As I read more about Sue, I discovered that we have a lot in common. We are of a similar age and our dads were both teachers and they are botanists and artists. They took us with them on expeditions, where we looked for botanical specimens and identified them. Is this similarity purely coincidental?
But at some point, Sue took the path of a professional painter and I took the path of a teacher, although I am looking more and more at painting.
Today, Sue lives in New Zealand, one of my favourite countries. She paints pictures of plants from all over the world, works on illustrations for science books, and designs stamps and beautiful botanical-themed fabrics.
When you visit her exhibition at Kew, you will be surprised by the sheer perfection of her paintings. How did Sue do it? I know from my experience, such paintings cannot be painted from books or photographs. It is necessary for the painter to have live specimens in front of her, so Sue travelled to many countries. She visited desert villages and remote mountain areas and found old varieties of cultivated plants that had been cultivated there since ancient times. She processed sketches, colour notes and reference photos, and based on them, she painted large paintings in her studio that depict these plants or parts of them in real size.
The paintings are not only beautiful, but I also learned a lot from them. For example, thanks to them I saw the flowers and fruits of Salvadora persica, for the first time. I regularly meet this bush in Tanzania and I only knew its Swahili name – swaki or miswaki, which means toothbrush or toothbrushes. Thanks to the fact that I now know the Latin name from the picture, I was able to learn more about this shrub and its wonderful properties.
It’s just a shame I missed out on a big discount last week on a book based on these illustrations by Dr Shahina Ghazanfar, a botanist at Kew. But never mind, all the pictures with descriptions can be found here on Sue’s website.
And here, you can even watch videos of individual paintings with commentary.
If you’re planning a holiday trip to London, don’t miss this exhibition!
The photo in the preview is my own.