WA flora shines on canvas

Ode to Grandis, Sarah Thornton-Smith (Artist)

The York Botanic Art Prize is an art prize with a difference. All mediums are welcome as artists feature Western Australia’s fascinating native flora.

By Ara Jansen

When you visit the 2023 York Botanic Art Prize over the summer, expect to be surprised at the kind of art you’ll see.

A Banksia Moment, Angela Ferolla (Artist)
Graniticus, Robin Wells (Artist)

The prize is unique in that artists are invited to actively challenge traditional notions and conventions of botanical art with their entries. Artists must respond to the theme of native Western Australian flora and reference specific local species, but they can work in any medium, offering an opportunity to expand the field of what botanic art can be. 

Mark Mohell’s winning entry in 2021 was a digital video work, as was the inaugural 2020 winner Kirsten Hudson.  

Prize director and owner of York’s Gallery 152 Jenny Garroun says the prize was created to showcase artistic engagement with WA’s incredible native flora, but also draw attention to the issues and challenges that face its protection and conservation. The gallery hosts the exhibition of the finalists until the end of January. 

“We want people to push the boundaries of what they think botanical art is,” she says. “Which is why the entrants work with everything from traditional painting to textiles, clay or film. This is what makes it unique and really interesting. We don’t exclude painting, drawing or traditional work, but we are also interested in pushing the envelope of what botanical art can be.

“It’s an opportunity to dig a little deeper into the spaces where science meets art. Through the prize we hope to connect art with science, to drive change, conserve our natural environment and preserve biodiversity for the long-term future of our planet. During that process we are also able to support new and important creative works.” 

More than 9000 people visited the finalist exhibitions in 2020 and 2021, and now the exhibition will be held every other year. This year’s exhibition – Australia’s only contemporary botanic art prize – features 30 artists from WA and 17 from other states chosen from a field of 177 entries. 

The WA finalists include Pippin Drysdale, James Crombie, Yoshiko Gunning, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Tineke Van der Eecken, Clarice Yuen, Matthew McVeigh and Cynthia Orr.

Unlike other art prizes where the finished piece has to be sent for selection, the York prize requires proof of a concept. The judges want to know that each artist has the capacity to deliver what they are planning to create. This means only the finalists actually need to produce a finished piece of work.

Outside Gallery 152

This year for the first time, the prize was also opened up to overseas entries and while none were received, Jenny hopes it’s the start of wider notice. 

“We’ve had interest from overseas and there was no reason to exclude these artists. Their work must still feature native WA flora, so in the future that might yield some interesting interpretations. 

“We’re trying to encourage engagement and a greater knowledge about WA flora because we have such a diverse and fascinating environment that is under threat. For example, only 10% of native vegetation is left in the Wheatbelt. We have a crisis on our hands so the prize is also a way to document this.”

Environmental scientist, landscape designer, sustainability advocate and ABC TV Gardening Australia presenter Professor Josh Byrne is the prize patron. This year’s judges were Dr Laetitia Wilson, Ron Bradfield Jnr and Professor Fiona Stanley.

See the York Botanic Art Prize at Gallery 152 (152 Avon Terrace, York) from November 26 to January 31, 2024.