20 Cheeky Questions: John Pastoriza-Piñol

“The more rare, unusual and macabre the plant is the more enduring the influence,” says Melbourne based botanical artist John Pastoriza-Piñol. His work explores the connection between centuries old botanical drawings and contemporary art practice and is part of this years botanical art exhibition at Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney: Botanica: In Sickness and in Health.  With a ‘neo-conservative meets preppy punk’ style, and a penchant for strange plants, John is our kind of guy!

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and your life with plants? I am a Melbourne based artist who does works on paper. I am an accurate realist who specialises in natural history, primarily botanical subjects. I act as a conduit between contemporary botanical art and contemporary art practice. Though some may see my work as pure documentation, I explore an elaborate narrative in the deliberate choice and composition of my subject matter. The more rare, unusual and macabre the plant is the more enduring the influence.

Can you also please tell us about your art practice? Botanical art has been described as the meeting place between the arts and the sciences; however, many contemporary art practitioners describe the genre as ‘pure documentation devoid of any social context or narrative’. Contrary to critique, we are witnessing an increasing interest in this art form and more established galleries are showing interest in displaying this art.

I employ techniques from both the centuries-old tradition of botanical drawing as well as contemporary art. While my watercolours are executed with the precision and verisimilitude of a botanical artist, my recurrent use of iconography: floating objects, lack of shadow, use of negative space, and pointedly, often broken or disturbed specimens, would disarm the purist.

My works exist in a realm somewhere between the hyper-real and literal and the surreal and fantastical.”

You’re working in a typically female dominated domain. What’s that like? A little lonely! It is strange to think that many well respected historical figures were male and now we have seen a complete change with contemporary artists be predominantly female. So many of us lead fast passed dynamic lives and this is more the slow-art movement. Most artists don’t have the patience for this pursuit. That said, surprisingly there is a resurgence of realism in contemporary art practice which has inspired many prominent artists to adopt more contemporary interpretations and therefore pushing the boundaries of this art form into mainstream. And yes many of these are male!

What is it about flowers that people find so sexual? Many of us see phallic or yonic similarities in nature and are subconsciously attracted to certain forms. Artists have long used flowers as a metaphor to express a sense of sexual embodiment. The vividly sensitive botanical works in my upcoming exhibition ‘Nubile Perfection’ at Scott Liversey Galleries convey the hyper-naturalism of each subject through the quality of light, colour and form, as well as demonstrating a sexually explicit type of voyeurism – the presence of sensuality in scientific representation.

We can currently find you exhibiting at Botanica in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. How does your work explore this year’s theme: In Sickness and In Health? An earlier work of mine touched on the context of self. After turning 40, I became more aware of my next stage of life and I wanted to explore this narrative further. It was fitting that I should also embark on creating a significant work which would embody my skills as an artist. The resulting painting of Magnolia ‘Vulcan’ is strongly autobiographical and is one of my most ambitious works to date.

The philosophy behind this work explores physiological health and the factors that we are all shaped by: time, fate and freedom. We may not be able to influence or control these factors and their predetermination fashions us.

Beallara marfitch (Orchid), 2016, Watercolour
Iris x germanica (Bearded Iris), 2016, Watercolour
Hermerocallus x hybrida (Lily), 2016, Watercolour.
Clematis x hybrida (Clematis), 2016, Watercolour.
Paeonia suffruticosa, (Peony), 2016, Watercolour

Your artworks have taken you all over the world. Where has been your favourite place to visit? New York. It sounds so predictable but I have visited there every year for the last 10 years and I always find something new. Last year I was awarded an Australia Art Council Grant that incorporated a two-month residency in NYC. It was the most amazing time of my life….thus far.

I also had the amazing opportunity last year to travel to Transylvania and stay at Viscri and Zalanpatak, small but busy Saxon villages of about 500 people, owned by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s Foundation in Romania. At the crack of dawn cattle parade down the main street on their way to the pastures, followed by chickens, ducks, turkeys and other fowl. Milk churns are collected, visitors visit and in the evening the cattle return, peeling off through the gates of their homes for another night, followed by the poultry, cats and dogs. It is quite a sight.

The views there are glorious, with wildflower-clad slopes just beyond the fence, abundances of wild flowers growing in steppe meadows and guesthouses nestled in the valley at the end of the village. It’s a very simple and humble way of life.

What’s your favourite thing about teaching botanical art to your students? I have been teaching intermediate/advanced classes for almost 14 years now and I have been fortunate to share my unique approach to the art form interstate and internationally. I am constantly amazed to see how people interpret my teaching and am honoured to witness the development of their own visual language.

What’s your ideal colour palette? Rich, vibrant and slightly shocking. Being a synesthete, I am influenced by colour and I gravitate towards red hues. I hope this does not mean I am a psychopath!

Old fashioned or contemporary? Neo-conservative and preppy punk! So both really!

What’s your favourite word? Authenticism – a belief in the superiority of the authentic over the inauthentic.

What are three things that inspire you? Fashion – I enjoy the way we can reinvent ourselves by what we wear. Other artists – a source of inspiration and dialogue. The natural world – continued wonder.

What would you be doing in an alternate life or career? International man of mystery!

If you could control your dreams, what would you dream about? Complete creative control and financial freedom.

What is special about where you live? I now live in a green area, close to Como House and Gardens in Toorak, completely different to where I grew up in suburban Melbourne. I wake to the laugh of kookaburras and experience the songs of such rich birdlife whilst I am painting in my studio. It is very special, very central and always exciting.

Do you have a favourite season? This is a hard question, I would say either early autumn or early spring. But it depends on which hemisphere!

What do you miss most about being a kid? I miss the stress-free life of being a child and the endless amount of play and imagination that goes with it.

What’s your favourite smell? In winter the heady perfume of daphne and in summer the freshly opened flowers of the Linden tree (Tilla europea). Intoxicating.

Who’s work should we be making a beeline towards at Botanica? (Apart from your own of course!) Beverly Allen! An amazing artist who has a strong background in graphic design which makes her compositions unique and stunning. I really want to be in her league one day.

Check out John’s WEBSITE.

Botanica: In Sickness and In Health runs from May 6th-28th at Lion Gate Lodge, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

Punica granatum (Pomegranate), 2016, Watercolour.