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Hunt Institute exhibit takes another view of life

| Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Jenny Hyde-Johnson (South Africa, 1955–), Aasblom (Carrion flower); Orbeopsis melanantha, watercolor and gouache on illustration board, 2015, 43.5 × 57.5 cm, rights held by the artist.
Jenny Hyde-Johnson (South Africa, 1955–), Aasblom (Carrion flower); Orbeopsis melanantha, watercolor and gouache on illustration board, 2015, 43.5 × 57.5 cm, rights held by the artist.
Hye Woo Shin (South Korea, 1985–), Seeds of Gymnosperms in Korea-1, Pinus parviflora, Cunninghamia lanceolata, Chamaecyparis obtusa, Pinus bungeana, Cephalotaxus koreana, Tsuga sieboldii, watercolor on paper, 2015, 53 × 75 cm, rights held by the artist.
Hye Woo Shin (South Korea, 1985–), Seeds of Gymnosperms in Korea-1, Pinus parviflora, Cunninghamia lanceolata, Chamaecyparis obtusa, Pinus bungeana, Cephalotaxus koreana, Tsuga sieboldii, watercolor on paper, 2015, 53 × 75 cm, rights held by the artist.
Heidi Snyder, (United States, 1953–), Opuntia engelmanii; Prickly Pear Cactus, colored pencil on drafting film, 2015, 46 × 61 cm, rights held by the artist.
Heidi Snyder, (United States, 1953–), Opuntia engelmanii; Prickly Pear Cactus, colored pencil on drafting film, 2015, 46 × 61 cm, rights held by the artist.
Suguri Makino (Japan, 1950–), Aotsudurafuji, Cocculus trilobus, acrylic paint by airbrush, gouache, on illustration board, 2005, 51.5 × 36 cm, rights held by artist.
Suguri Makino (Japan, 1950–), Aotsudurafuji, Cocculus trilobus, acrylic paint by airbrush, gouache, on illustration board, 2005, 51.5 × 36 cm, rights held by artist.
Lauren Sahu-Khan (Australia, 1990), Mr. Banks, Banksia, graphite pencil on paper, 2015, 76.5 × 57 cm, rights held by the artist.
Lauren Sahu-Khan (Australia, 1990), Mr. Banks, Banksia, graphite pencil on paper, 2015, 76.5 × 57 cm, rights held by the artist.

Now in its 15th iteration, the “International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration,” held every three years by the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Oakland, is pushing the limits of what is botanical illustration.

Sure, there are still plenty of traditional, finely detailed illustrations of flora and fauna among the 43 watercolors, drawings and prints currently on display in the exhibit on the fifth floor of Carnegie Mellon University's Hunt Library.

Some are extremely scientific in nature. But many, such as Heidi Snyder's “Opuntia engelmanii,” which is a close-up colored-pencil study of a Prickly Pear Cactus, are overwhelmingly expressive, well beyond the confines of pure science.

Drawn with colored pencils on drafting film, the piece has a “velvety texture,” says Carrie Roy, the Hunt's assistant curator of art, who along with Hunt curator Lugene Bruno chose 43 artworks by as many artists from around the world for this prestigious exhibit. Since 1995, the exhibit has opened in conjunction with the American Society of Botanical Artists educational conference (Oct. 13-15 this year), which is held every three years in Pittsburgh.

“Nearly half of the artists in this exhibit came in for the opening,” Bruno says. “We try to get the best that we can find every three years. It's something to inspire and also educate those who want to not only learn more about plants, but also see the beautiful possibilities in this unique art genre.”

This time, artwork was submitted from 15 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, England, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

Also using pencil to dramatic effect, but in gray tones of graphite, is the work of Australian artist Lauren Sahu-Khan. Her piece, “Mr. Banks, Banksia,” is a graphite pencil on paper study of the large seedpods of the Australian wildflowers known as Banksia, which is also a popular garden plant worldwide.

Another work of note is “Aotsudurafuji, Cocculus trilobus,” an acrylic painting created with an airbrush by Japanese artist Suguri Makino.

Here, Makino chose to create a macro-view of the blue-berried plant. Painted in atmospheric perspective, as if it is was photographed in high-detailed relief, the leaf and berries of the branch seemingly fade into the distance.

A professional illustrator, Makino previously worked in advertising and has authored several children's picture books, which goes a long way in explaining this work. It was created with airbrush and acrylic paint, gouache and gesso, and is ethereal and expressive.

Another standout work is “Seeds of Gymnosperms in Korea” by South Korean artist Hye Woo Shin. Depicting the seeds and leafs of various pinecones, it is comprised of six pages of a book the artist is working on regarding pinecones.

“It's a fine example of how to represent a single subject as a whole piece,” Bruno says. “She is using color and form as well as repetitive pattern to move your eye throughout the whole piece in a masterful way.”

The director of the Korea National Arboretum Bo”tanical Art Project in Gwangneung, Shin holds a doctoral degree in plant molecular phylogenetics, which explains why the highly detailed and incredibly thorough watercolors of seeds and cone parts are so exacting. Many of her pieces have been published through the Korean National Arboretum and the National Institute of Biological Resources at the Ministry of the Environment.

Not all of the works on display are so specific down to the minutest detail.

A watercolor and gouache painting of a Carrion flower, also known as corpse flower or stinking flower, by South African artist Jenny Hyde-Johnson is set in front of its native landscape, which gives more details about the plant, such as its native climate and surrounding.

Also including elements of landscape, “Coloquintes (Cucurbitaceae)” a black-and-white drypoint etching by French artist Erik Desmazieres shows gourds in a window frame with a European town behind it, giving viewers a more romantic vision of the botanical.

“You can't tell if you are looking in a window, or if theses gourds are tumbling out of the window,” says Bruno, about what is one of the more compelling pieces on display.

Though the remaining works may be more scientific in nature, they are no less amazing for the skill and abilities that went into them, making for a fascinating exhibition experience.

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic. Reach him at tribliving@tribweb.com.

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