The books that fuel Angela Lober’s botanic art

Glebe-based botanical artist and teacher Angela Lober reads for relaxation and to fuel her artistic endeavours. In May 2017, her work featured in Botanica, an exhibition of botanical art held in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Her striking portrait of a Gymea lily (Doryanthes excelsa, pictured), with its unusual black background, was a highlight of the exhibition, which also showcased the work of nearly 70 internationally recognised and emerging botanical artists.

Angela says weekends spent at her family’s rainforest block in Kincumber on the Central Coast when she was growing up sharpened her appreciation of the natural world. Her school holiday visits to, and work experience at, the Australian Museum in College Street, Sydney, also gave her endless hours of pleasure with its minerals, insects, birds of paradise, and ‘skeletons of every imaginable creature’.

Born in Sydney, Angela started her career as a landscape architect after graduating from University of NSW in 1990. Her interest in fine art and botany led her to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Visual Art (Plant and Wildlife Illustration) at Newcastle University in 1995. Angela has been painting and exhibiting since 2002, and her work is found in international collections.

In 2012 she was awarded a Silver-gilt Medal at the RHS London Botanical Art Show, and in 2014 she won the Celia Rosser Medal for Excellence in Botanic Art in Melbourne. She paints full time and teaches at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, as well as serving on the committee of the Florilegium Society.

I interviewed Angela this month for a story about her Gymea lily painting and Botanica for the South Sydney Herald. I also asked her what she’s been reading …

Quiet by Susan Cain

I’m reading a book that a friend loaned me called Quiet, which is about living as an introvert in an extroverted world, and it’s quite interesting. I’ve definitely decided that I’m an introvert—but it has yet to convince me that introverts are valued. Still, I haven’t got through it very far—so, we’ll see.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I like Australian literature—authors like Tim Winton and Hannah Kent. I’ve read Hannah Kent’s two novels. I didn’t enjoy the Irish one (The Good People) as much as Burial Rites. I think she overworked the superstition elements a bit. Despite this, it did give an interesting insight into some of the things people believed in that place and time.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

With Burial Rights I felt like I was in Iceland, freezing cold, in a cottage with clods of earth falling on me. It was fantastic. The novel tells the story of a woman in northern Iceland in 1829 who has been condemned for her part in the murder of two men. You learn more about her and her precarious situation as the execution draws closer. I really liked it!

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

One book I really loved reading a few years ago was Remarkable Creatures. It is by the same author that wrote The Girl with the Pearl Earring. It’s amazing. It’s based on a true account, and it’s all about natural history. It centres on the story of Mary Anning who was the daughter of a carpenter, and whose father died. She was poor and lived on the Jurassic Coast. She used to pick out the ammonites from the sea cliffs and sell them to tourists. She discovered the first fossil of the dinosaur that emerged from the sea. She found this incredible fossil that was 10-foot long—or something like that. The novel offers insights into how women were not really given any credit for anything back then. Women weren’t even allowed to be in lecture theatres or to go to scientific lectures. So these wealthy naturalists came and purchased the fossils she’d found for a pittance and then claimed them as their own finds. Thankfully, that large and significant fossil is now in the British Museum, and it is attributed to her, so she finally got her recognition. It’s a fascinating story.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

The Painted Garden is about a woman called Mary Delany who, after her second husband died, created mixed-media collages of botanical specimens. I actually went and looked at some of her works in the British Museum. What I thought when I saw them was how contemporary she was—how prolific. She completed almost a thousand works of botanically correct cut-paper flowers in the last years of her life— from age 72. That [full-colour image in the book] is such a contemporary piece. It’s so striking. I had an interest in it. I actually saw this piece in the British museum, and she does a lot of her collage on black paper. This detail here [points] was actually a bit of a leaf skeleton.

The Florilegium by The Florilegium Society of RBGS

I helped to produce The Florilegium book, which contains work by botanical artists from all over the world. The book illustrates the first plant introductions to The Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney (RBGS) right through to the most recent introductions to celebrate the RBGS’s 200-year anniversary in 2016.

The Florilegium Society at the RBGS was formed to create the florilegium, a collection of contemporary botanical paintings of some of the most significant plants in the living collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. The collection was exhibited at the Museum of Sydney last year. Sydney Living Museums made a video of me talking about the art of botanical illustration and what I enjoyed about painting the Norfolk Island Pine for the exhibition.

Beverley Allen, whose work was also in Botanica with mine this year, painted the Wollemi Pine—and a detail from this artwork appears on the cover. She’s the president of the Florilegium Committee and I’m the treasurer.

If I was only allowed to paint one species for the rest of my life it would be the Firewheel Tree, Stenocarpus sinuatus. It’s sculpturally and structurally so interesting and so alien looking. It’s also a native, which I really like. I do tend to go for more rainforesty type trees. I’ve painted it about five times—and one of these paintings appears in this book. I never get sick of the Firewheel Tree. I love it. I could paint it over and over again. Plus it’s easy to find material because they use them for street trees around Sydney.

The Florilegium exhibition will be travelling to Kew Gardens in London next year. It’s great exposure for Australia and the Botanic Gardens. We’re also working on an exhibition relating to the Banks and Solander collection for 2020.

Working on The Florilegium book, I learned a lot about book publishing. I also learned a lot about the international artists involved. I got biographical information from the 65 artists and had to edit their contributions back to 300 words to make them consistent.

All the artists in The Florilegium donated their paintings. So when you think about all the hundreds of hours that are in that book it’s amazing. Yes, you do it for love. Definitely.

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