Paradise Lost – The Exhibition

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To coincide with the 250th Anniversary of Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, Solander Gallery in Wellington and project partner, Embassy of Sweden in Canberra, opened the exhibition Paradise Lost. This group exhibition of ten NZ artists was put together to commemorate the contribution naturalist, Daniel Solander, made to New Zealand’s botanical history. The exhibition has be touring, many regional galleries around NZ and in Sweden.

Daniel Solander, a Swedish botanist, was employed by scientist, Joseph Banks on Cook’s historic voyage to the Pacific in 1768-1770. Together, they collected hundreds of plant species as the Endeavour circumnavigated New Zealand and travelled across the Pacific Ocean. This journey has increasingly been viewed with mixed emotions, due to the enduring impacts of colonisation which followed several decades after Cook’s journey.

As paper was in short supply in the 1760’s in England, Banks and Solander brought a Printer’s Proof of Milton’s book Paradise Lost.  It was pages from this work that were used to press and dry the first European collections of New Zealand plants.

The ten NZ artists included in the project are:  Alexis Neal, Dagmar Dyck, Jenna Packer, Jo Ogier, John McLean, John Pusateri, Lynn Taylor, Michel Tuffery, Sharnae Beardsley and Tabatha Forbes.

Geranium-solanderi
Fuscospora-solandri
Rhabdothamnus-solandri
Carex-solandri

In recognition of Daniel Solander’s contribution to New Zealand scientific botanical history, I have completed a series of photopolymer etchings illustrating some of the NZ scientific plants named after him.

These include Fuscospora solandri – Tawai rauriki/ Black Beech,Geranium solanderi – Matua-kūmara/ Pukupuku/ Solander’s Geranium, Rhabdothamnus solandri – Kaikaiahua/ Mātā/ Mātātā/ Taurepo/ Waiūata/ NZ Gloxinia and Carex solandri – Solander’s sedge/ Forest sedge.

Solander’s original botanical specimens and descriptions, based on the Linnean system of classification, have largely been reclassified and renamed by subsequent botanists. Sadly, due to his early and untimely death, his manuscript Primitiae Florae Novae Zelandiae (The beginnings of a New Zealand flora), which outlined the botanical discoveries from the Endeavour’s voyage to NZ, was never published. If indeed it had been published at the time, I am sure that Solander would have gained much greater acclaim and worldwide recognition for his botanical works.

Many thanks to the kind botanists from Manaaki Whenua/ Landcare Research who checked the accuracy of my drawings for the etchings; Leonie Perrie from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for name clarifications and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Trees for Canterbury and Oratia Native Plant Nursery for helping me source the plant specimens.

The Process

The process for creating these works first involved sourcing the botanical specimens, then completing scientific studies of them over a period of time. Using pen and ink, I drew the images onto architects’ paper. These images were then checked by botanists to make sure they were correct.  The drawings were then laid over a photo polymer plate which is made up of a thin metal backing and a photo polymer emulsion that is Ultra violet (UV) light sensitive and water soluble. Where the UV light touches the plate it goes hard and where the light is blocked by a black line it remains water soluble.

Once the plate has been exposed to UV light (I use direct sunlight), the drawing is removed and the plate is washed out with water using a soft brush. This washing process takes about 2 – 4 minutes. The plate is then dried and re-exposed to UV light for a short time. This hardens the washed out areas and the surface of the plate, and small grooves and indentations are created.

Oil based printing ink is then pressed into the grooves of the plate and the surface ink is wiped away. The plate is placed face up on a press bed and damp cotton based paper is laid over the top. A dense felt blanket is laid over the top of these 2 layers and it is then rolled through the printing press at high pressure. The damp paper receives the ink from the grooves in the plate. In all of these images at least 2 plates have been used to create the final image. The lighter coloured silhouette plates were printed first then the sepia drawings over the top. The work is then pressed dry for 2-3 weeks, then hand-coloured using professional quality watercolour paints.