Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Perennial Symbols of the Botanical Realm I'

This artwork 'Perennial Symbols of the Botanical Realm I', 60 x 120 cm, was originally a Dyptich and began its life in the studio I occupied in Paddington in the second half of 2010. 

After a few days of working on this painting following Xmas, 2010 a full month of intense, drenching rains led to the first major flooding Brisbane had seen in decades. Although the studio was high up on a hilly ridge it was a bit wet when I returned to find how things were. All was fine though. During the flood I was forced to stay put at home in Clayfield. Roads had been cut off everywhere so it didn't even bear thinking about trying to get in to the studio to work. Most of Queensland had gone under water, flooding had devastated some areas and loss of life was serious.

As I'd grown up in a river town in Northern NSW flooding brought back stark memories. Summer was swallowed up by rains and grey skies and difficult stories of how it had been for others. This painting languished for a couple of weeks and I moved out of the studio soon after. It was months later I started work on it again... but in my small studio at home it was a bit crowded working on such a large canvas and I never was sure where this was going.

Getting started at the Paddington Studio... painting on the right
was a Dyptich that eventually evolved into something complete.

For ages there was something very heavy, very stuck 
 about this work ... I was unable to lighten it up in any way.

to say I worked and reworked this canvas is an understatement.

And yet...

... this other work in the blue green palette never presented 
that problem and instead, just came gradually to life! 

If you look at this section of the finished artwork below you'll note I was eventually able to find a way into this work but not before I took a paintbrush to it and radically altered it by whiting over areas of the painting in order to start building up colour dynamics and layers from scratch again.

This time around the eye had space to rest and areas of the work acted like pathways, breathing spaces between intense sections of colour and pattern.

Here is a small section which highlights the interplay of colour and form, patterns and motif.

Recently I put this work in my Online Shop as a print... making the image above this one available as an archival Limited Edition print. 

The original artwork was shown as two separate artworks at my February Exhibition and both works sold on Opening night which was interesting given I'd separated them. The owner of this work kindly indulged me when I decided I needed to tinker slightly with the work before she collected it after the exhibition was over. I'm very glad for that extra bit of time to add some layering after I'd had the chance during the exhibition to ponder the work. When I finally parted with it I felt it was fine... even if it took a little over two years.

Given that rather involved story its been interesting to find this work being chosen ( a section of the work that is) for use on a christmas card for an organisation based in Bonn, in Germany.

The organisation's agenda happens aligns surprisingly well with the artwork's essential message... referring as it does to the perpetual cycles of the Seed inheritance from around the globe, through layers and laters of small seed forms. 

The Global Crop Diversity Trust is 'an independent international organization working to guarantee the conservation of crop diversity. Forever.' 

This excerpt below is quoted directly from their page WHO ARE WE?

Crop diversity is one of the world’s least recognized but most valuable resources.  Individual crop varieties, such as the 200,000 varieties of wheat, have different traits for drought or heat tolerance, nutritional quality, disease resistance and every other possible characteristic. 
Crop diversity is therefore the raw material for improving and adapting crops to meet all future challenges.  Yet at the moment much of the world’s crop diversity is neither safely conserved, nor readily available to scientists and farmers who rely on it to safeguard agricultural productivity.  Diversity is being lost, and with it the biological basis of our food supply.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust is the only worldwide response to this funding crisis.  In a world where there are many important, and apparently overwhelming, issues demanding attention, it is important to note how the Trust differs from other organizations competing for donations
Its mission is achievable. It is rare that the world faces a major problem which has highly disturbing implications but an identifiable and achievable solution. This is preciselywhat the Trust offers; a costed, measurable plan, relying on existing institutions and simple proven technologies.
It is the only solution. Crop diversity is disappearing, and the Trust is the sole dedicated worldwide funding organization for its conservation. The Trust itself is operating in a unique political "window of opportunity", following the entering into force of the new International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and has partnered with all the important organisations in this field. The Trust offers a unique opportunity to put in place a rational and cost-effective system for the conservation of the resources which underpin all agriculture and the world's future food supplies.

This is one of the organisations I began visiting online as I researched for the residency at Mt Coot-tha in 2010. Investigating Biodiversity initially was through the website of the UN International Year of Biodiversity in 2010 and also  Kew Gardens and the Millennium Seedbank. This had been a springboard to Bioversity International and the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Hence, I've posted frequently here at this blog on these organisations. You might to read their website to consider the work being carried out in connection with numerous countries, organisations and individuals. My Scoop-it site Bio-cultural Diversity when I get time is one of the places where I get feeds from the Crop Trust. 

I've often rescooped posts by Luigi Guarino, senior scientist at the Crop Trust. Click to visit his sites.

Luigi Guarino

Luigi Guarino & Jeremy Cherfas discuss the diversity of crops, livestock, microbes and foodways at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog... and here.

I was contacted by Luis Salazar from Bonn who arranged for this Xmas card to feature my work and a follow up later in January with promo on the Homage to the Seed Project.

I'm very pleased to have been able to share this work with this very unique and fascinating Not-for-Profit organisation, especially knowing the enormous value  of the work they do and are connected with. I've often started my day trawling through sites like their website, Luigi's Scoops or similar. Before I'm up and into the day I've often spent two hours reading current news from around the world on seeds, biodiversity and so on. Its a pattern that has become somewhat fixed over several years now.

I used to trawl art and design websites most days when I could, and spend hours blogging per week. But as the climate shifts and life on this globe of ours is ever more pressured I find it is of utmost relevance to have a sense of where I am, and where we all are, through these stories. 

My language remains very visual although I'm prompter at times to need to write.  I paint for intense periods when I can. However, the painting is very often a meditation... a stilling of the mind as all the reading and thinking settles into a place where I can feel my response and make choices about how to proceed and think my way to the next thing.

Its late now but I did want to make this post tonight so I can share it as this year is winding down fast. My intern Jane, a 17 yr old student is coming in the morning. I haven't packed to go up the range on Boxing day for 5 days of painting in the Springbrook National Park. Xmas day I guess I can do that. 

This painting of Perennial Symbols which started in the big rains of late 2010 into 2011 is alive and well in spirit. Now more than ever it seems we must find ways to celebrate our natural heritage and care for it. Our way may not be the same as another's. And perhaps conversations are a really good starting point.

During the last five years of this project on seeds I've had to deal with moments of interrogation or angry monologues from the odd person who needed to point out to me that Scientists were evil and why was I working with them ... and Seed banks were very evil. At first I wondered what they knew that I didn't. I was prepared to admit my knowledge was poor. In the end I realised that if it wasn't a two way, mutual conversation they maybe didn't know terribly much ...  but neither did they seem to have the desire to be open or learn either.

Don't forget ... you can enter my intern Sam's Competition Survey. I will draw the winner on my return at New years... so get your answers in! Its the previous post where she wrote about entering the survey.

Best wishes to all for a very peaceful festive season, wherever you are.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Be in the running to win a PRIZE ... FILL OUT OUR SURVEY!

Hi all, 

My name is Sam and I am currently  doing an internship with Sophie on her Homage to the Seed project. Last week was my first time working at the Seed Art Lab. I wrote a blog post about my art while I was there. 

So I'm back again to talk about an idea that Sophie for us to conduct an interesting survey on seeds. 

We wanted to test people's awareness of seeds. 

All you have to do is answer these questions and be in the running for some of Sophie's post cards and another prize.  (original Sophie Munns artwork) The purpose of this survey is to see how differently adults and people around my age (15) respond to this. 

Hope to hear from you 

If you can send us an email with your answers here  we will be sending out a postcard to the first 5 responses and the best response of all will receive an original artwork like this example from a recent series of watercolours: 

Message from sophie:  this page at my Seed.Art.Lab where I have this series of artworks for sale. The prize will be one of these artworks that is available.

"50 Watercolour paintings"  A series of works on 300gm Cotton paper, 10 cm x 21 cm. Some in the series of 50 are now sold. If you are interested in these I can send images via email.
$75 each or series of 3 for $180.
MORE INFO and background story in the Blog Post.

Looking forward to hearing from you everyone!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

7 days till the Studio: Seed.Art.Lab Launch

7 days till the Studio: Seed.Art.Lab Launch

I've shared this post directly from my Studio Archive blog as its a hugely busy week and I wanted to be sure to keep you informed in case you are in these parts next weekend and can attend the Studio Launch!

This lovely new glass cabinet has pride of place in the new studio...

more on this below...

Recently I was part of a Artist-in-residence program that brought  5 artists together to work with the Jump-start Program at Kelvin Grove Secondary College in Brisbane.

I wrote about it at the Homage to the Seed blog and he ought I'd post here something I wrote for the exhibition which started with the quoted above from Tom Waits from an interview with him in 2006.

This project really prompted me to think very deeply about the children inheriting this planet now and the silence of too many adults around the state of the planet. It must leave them asking a lot of questions quietly to themselves late at night if not elsewhere in their lives.

This is then what I wrote.

ITS GETTING HOT AROUND HERE : The Seeds and Bio-diversity story. 

Artist Statement from Sophie Munns 

In the 21st Century no longer can we take for granted continuation of life for thousands of plant species... including some of the 30,000 known edible species and countless other highly useful species we rely on. In fact we don't even know what remarkable seeds might be lost to us given that scientists are still discovering species, particularly in fragile Rainforest eco-systems. Certain plants have long been commodified for use as fuels, glues, plastics, fibres, textiles, papers, rubber, building materials, medications (traditional to bio-molecular), beverages... and the list goes on. 

Chocolate and coffee lovers around the planet are waking up to the rude fact that their favourite of tropical crops does not like it getting hotter. This has demanded swift response from plant science, farmers and a growing sector of coffee and chocolate companies to shift focus from quick-growth profit margins to the crucial step of increasing sustainability in the way coffee and cacao crops are grown, delivered to market, and understood by the public... all in the effort to ensure these potentially endangered species are maintained for the long term. This story is repeated over and over with many other species we like to put on our tables. 
Seed viability, the capacity of seeds to produce new life, is indeed a concern not always understood. Artist Residencies undertaken by Sophie Munns in Seed Bank Labs and Botanic Gardens since 2010 have led to ongoing exchanges with plant scientists, with access to an expanding field of scientific knowledge revealing precisely how changes in climate go on to impact the capacity of plants to survive in particular locations that for hundreds, even thousands of years, saw plants prosper in those very same regions. 
All around the globe the up-scaling of research on complex impacts on plants and eco-systems is bringing out a plethora of profoundly significant material that rarely reaches a general public audience. Dispersing information to the broader public has become an increasingly important task for the Science community and all who recognise the difference quality education makes. This is without doubt a potent and invaluable role the Arts can play in aiding the communication of critical material to a wider audience. 
Bringing ‘Seeds and Biodiversity’ to the Jump Start project the artist spent 4 sessions with a group of students examining key issues around Seeds and Biodiversity informed by current global research across Plant Science, Agriculture and related social, political and cultural issues. Students were given an overview of the role seeds have played across time, going back to the earliest known civilisations. We explored the cultural heritages of each individual in our group ... noting, wherever possible, links to family and ancestors from all over the globe and the unique relationship to plants and food growing they may have had or perhaps still have. We thought about how this shaped the cuisines and traditions we may have inherited or perhaps have some inkling of. 
Also discussed was the extraordinary number of ways that humans work with seeds and plant material, use them for hobbies and leisure, or pursuits with artistic or cultural purpose. Crucially, we considered why seeds need our protection right now in order to ensure our own well-being into the future. 
For inspiration the artist brought examples of her artwork, seed collections and items made from seed and plant material. Additionally we explored with work of two key artists ... Brisbane painter Robert McPherson’s series of bold graphic painted signage in large wall installations provided an ideal visual strategy and NY artist Keith Haring who rose to prominence in the 80’s for his strong grafitti style and extraordinary 'symbol + text' images. 
The graphic work exhibited here may at first glance appear simple, even unsophisticated. Look further at the ideas and thoughts being expressed and a potent truth may be revealed. These year 7 students are emerging into a very different world than the one familiar to those currently in the driving seats of our communities, organisations and institutions. Thoughtful students can often see a different world to the one their elders see. They possess enthusiasm for wide-ranging questions given the opportunity, and its evident they may not think it’s smart leaving nature and the environment out of planning strategies and decision-making. A desire to discover more on the complex, often contradictory aspects of how our world is evolving is heightened wherever interest in ideas, research and sharing of thoughts is encouraged. 
Given the young are inheriting a world slow to learn or act on changes already proven necessary its crucial they be able to explore and evaluate ideas and information. The case of Tobacco companies maintaining the fight to exist in the market-place despite conclusive medical science research and Govt public health campaigns demonstrate s clearly that where economics is concerned its up to each of us to question what the ads and headlines are telling us! Education has never been more vital if we want young people to be informed in taking on the challenge of climate change and the increasing call for sustainable practices that are effective, pragmatic and life-preserving. 
The capacity to think creatively, to bring both passion and critical thinking to the finding of new solutions is championed in this program which recognises our future is here... that the thinkers and creators of the future are here in this room tonight! 
Bravo to all the students taking part in JumpstART! 
Sophie Munns wishes to thank the excellent JumpstART team for this unique and highly stimulating opportunity to engage with these young thinkers and creators before us. Their insights and efforts to navigate the changing conditions of this planet demand our encouragement, sustained interest and respect as we all learn what it means to tread more carefully around this home we all share. 

I've returned over the years many times to working with children of all ages for one reason or another. Teaching posts and substitute teaching for one, then there have been classes given due to requests from parents for quality lessons not so easy to come by these days.

Recently I had two very alert students come for a 4.5 hr intensive in the holidays .... drawing and thinking about plant science. This is the direction I intend to keep on with... small groups sessions with people of all ages, focused on seeds and biodiversity and ways to think and interpret this material visually.

More on that soon. For  now I am delighted to share a small image of my new glass cabinet for seed collections taking pride of place in the new studio.

Its a beauty! Even the colour I love.

And a reminder that if in this part of the world you are welcome to come along to the launch next weekend... contact me if you need to find out more.

Busy times... back soon. Go well everyone!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Botanic Gardens Conservation International: a great resource worth a look!

Trawling the Facebook page of Botanic Gardens Conservation International today lead me to their website where I was glad to see the Journal they produce is easily accessed online. Its actually a gold-mine of resources for anyone interested in how the role of Botanic gardens is changing and expanding  and connecting with all-important contemporary themes around Climate, Sustainability and Biodiversity preservation etc to name just a few.

See the list of journals here:

Roots: Issues 3.1 - date


Roots 9:2 - IBSE

There’s nothing new about inquiry-based learning; its theoretical ancestry can be traced, for example, to the work on open learning by Dewey and Wagenschein from the first half of the last century. And were we to scroll back a couple of millennia, we’d probably find that the idea of encouraging students towards questioning self-knowledge would earn a nod of recognition from Socrates himself! In this edition of Roots we have invited authors from Europe and Asia to guide us across the current ISBE landscape 
 Roots 9:1 Cover

Roots 9:1 - Children's Gardens

It’s a challenge facing botanic gardens everywhere: how can they broaden their visitor demographics and develop more meaningful relationships with their host communities? One approach, adopted by gardens worldwide, has been to shift the emphasis towards children and families – and in this latest issue of Roots we explore how some of them are addressing these existential questions of demographic and community relevance.

Roots 8:2 - Science and Culture

Located at the crossroads of science and culture, botanic gardens occupy a key educational and societal role. With human activity leading to environmental degradation and an unsustainable future, varied and imaginative strategies are needed for gardens to challenge these destructive behaviours and offer attractive, alternative models of sustainable living. Roots 8:2 demonstrates that there is no shortage of ideas, with examples from across the globe.
 Roots 8.1 front cover

Roots 8:1 - Growing the Social role of Botanic Gardens

This issue follows a recent study commissioned by BGCI onRedefining the role of botanic gardens: towards a new socialpurpose. Roots 8:1 combines academic perspectives and cases from Ghana, Sweden, UK, Israel, and USA that demonstrate how botanic gardens can develop their social role. Examples include innovative social inclusion projects which may vary from mentoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds in natural science careers (Chicago Botanic Garden) to building bridges over divided Arab and Jewish communities (Jerusalem Botanical Gardens).
7.2 front cover

Roots 7:2 -  Education and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

This issue of Roots follows hard on the heels of BGCI’s 4th Global Botanic Gardens Congress ‘Addressing Global Change: a New Agenda for Botanic Gardens’, hosted so generously in Dublin in 2010 by the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland and supported by the Irish Government. Botanic gardens must be encouraged to take a lead on communicating and educating the public on all targets of the GSPC.

7.1 front cover

Roots 7:1 - Education and

Today, with our growing awareness of the impact humankind is having on the environment; there is also recognition that horticulture has a significant role to play in implementing international strategies such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation as well as the Millennium Development Goals. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity – affording botanic gardens an unmissable opportunity to highlight the intimate relationship between biodiversity and horticulture and underline the essential role that horticulture has to play in education. In this issue of Roots we showcase a number of innovative education programmes that demonstrate the potential and significance of botanic gardens in this area.
roots 6.2 front cover

Roots 6:2 - International Year
of Biodiversity

Over the last 3 centuries important ecosystems such as the rainforests have shrunk half of their size, and although they only cover less than 6% of the planet’s surface, they contain the majority of the world’s plant and animal species, many yet undiscovered. Despite these shocking figures, many people are still not aware of the loss of biodiversity and its consequences.  Check out this issue for more information of how different countries invest in developing an understanding of biodiversity around the world and herein.

Roots 6.1 front cover

Roots 6:1 - Interpretation
for Sustainability

A recurring question for botanic gardens everywhere is ‘what do we want to interpret and communicate?’ Interpretation can be used to raise awareness at many different levels and increasingly we are seeing national and international collaboration between botanic gardens aimed at focusing attention on the need for plant conservation. Interpretation is a vast subject and this issue of Roots barely scratches the surface of what there is to know.

roots 5.2 front cover

Roots 5:2 - From there to eternity? The lesson's of Darwin's legacy

When, in November 1859, Charles Darwin published On The Origin of Species, he triggered an intellectual and conceptual earthquake of such magnitude that its aftershocks remain with us a century and a half later.  With 2009 marking the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species, this issue of Roots calls on botanic gardens to celebrate the legacy and thinking of this extraordinary man.

roots 5.1 front cover

Roots 5:1 - Climate Change: Can we handle it?

In this climate change issue of Roots, we examine how botanic gardens are confronting perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced by humankind. We show that many botanic gardens are taking the lead in their communities to engage the public in debate and empower them to take action.

Roots: The water issue

Roots 4:2 - Making Waves for Water Conservation

When we started to plan this water-themed issue of Roots, we were blissfully unaware that the summer of 2007 would emerge as the wettest since UK records began. Yet what happened here is nothing compared with what was going on elsewhere in the world. As the rains came down and rivers burst their banks throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia, millions of people were left homeless and without safe drinking water. Simultaneously, elsewhere in the world, millions of others faced serious drought conditions. The relationship between plants and water is intimate and complex; this issue of Roots explores this theme.

Roots 4:1 front cover

Roots 4:1 - Linneaus: Still relevant 300 years on?

300 years ago Linnaeus, regarded as the father of taxonomy and creator of the classification system, had little difficulty in engaging young people’s interest in taxonomy. Students flocked from far and wide to study with him and contemporary accounts suggest that his natural history excursions were notorious events! Now however, many express concern over the apparently inexorable decline in the popularity of taxonomy. This issue of Roots explores the methods and solutions used by educators to bring taxonomy and classification to life. 

Roots 3.2 front cover

Roots 3:2 - Environmental Education and play

This issue of Roots celebrates 'play' in the environment.  With our world becoming more urbanised the need for access to green space has never been greater.  Botanic gardens are wonderful venues for play and many gardens are increasingly aware of the need to offer opportunities for children to explore their surroundings freely.  

Roots 3:1 front cover

Roots 3:1 – Access for all: Problems and Solutions

Most of us would subscribe to the view that botanic gardens ought to be accessible, and by that we generally mean open to the public. But such a simple and unchallengeable statement raises more questions than it seems to answer. For example, what exactly do we mean by access? Who gains access, to what and how? These are some of the issues raised in this edition of Roots.
The resources from this issue compliment the access theme, and can also be downloaded here.

Through the Facebook page I read story after story of enormous interest.... touching down with ideas and concerns I constantly find myself sifting through.

I've included some distinctive material below here as it represents an alternative way of approaching Seeds and Plants... but not so unfamiliar to many who are connected to or have knowledge of the cultural, spiritual or religious teachings of their own or other's cultural heritages.

I thought I would share this as it might interest some readers and certainly reminds one of the importance of acknowledging the teachings that demonstrate how bio-cultural-diversity and bio-diversity are intimately informed and shaped by each other's presence.

Seeds of Unity Resources

Seeds of Unity Resources

seeds of unity logo
We have developed 18 new stimulating lesson plans for use in religious education.  The plans are suitable also for cross-curricular work such as religion and biology or religion and citizenship/PSHEand include references to projects worldwide.  We believe they can easily be adapted to other educational situations
The material is grouped into six thematic sections.  In each section there are two school-based lesson plans and one botanic garden lesson plan. There is no set programme of study; rather teachers are free to construct their own delivery, e.g. spreading each set of activities over several lessons. Each lesson plan is accompanied by teaching resources and there is a suggested assessment activity for each, with differentiated outcomes.  These are offered for the purposes of choice, as teachers wouldn’t be expected to complete an assessment for each lesson.  We hope you enjoy using these resources and we welcome your feedback.

The Awesome Seed

Explore how seeds can be symbols of spiritual and creative potential


Classroom lesson A    

Classroom lesson B    

Seed Survival Game       

Botanic Garden lesson     


Food for Thought

Examine how food made from plants can be viewed in ordinary and sacred contexts and explore

the ethics of food choice and production

food for thought 

Classroom lesson A           

Classroom lesson B  

Classroom lesson        

Botanic Garden lesson    

PDFs for:

The Green Ark

Investigate ideas of stewardship and responsibility for the natural world

 The Green Ark

Classroom lesson A            

Classroom lesson B      


Botanic Garden lesson  

Cultivating Peace

Discover how gardens can reflect the concept of paradise, as well as help to foster

cooperation and inner tranquillity.

 cultivating peace

Classroom lesson A           

Classroom lesson B    

Botanic Garden lesson

Healing Body and Soul

Investigate how plants can be used medicinally, to heal our bodies, and therapeutically to restore our souls.

healing body and mind  

Classroom lesson A     

PDFs for resource 2:

Classroom lesson B       

Botanic Garden lesson         


The Roots of Ritual

Explore how the human dependence on the plant world—in both literal and symbolic senses-

is reflected in ritual

root of ritual

Classroom lesson A                    

Classroom lesson B                                     

Botanic Garden lesson                                   

PDFs for: Table 1Table 2,Table 3
PDFs for: Label 1Label 2

BGCI would like to acknowledge the following people and organisations for their expertise and support in developing the Seeds of Unity resources:

NB If you decide to borrow any links please be sure to give full credit to the source of this material.

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