In South Africa, when I left school, I had two avenues open to me.
One was connected to the sciences ie medical technology, the other was to study the fine arts. Biology and Art, had been my favourite subjects.
I was unable to find a position in a lab for apprenticeship, excepting for a brief period as a junior technician in the lab of a paint factory. This had not been inspiring, so when I came back to England in 1963. I enrolled at Hammersmith Art School.
Over the years, I have been drawn to explore natural form and when I started painting Pods (the vessels for seeds) my scientific side emerged to help me investigate taxonomy and plant structure. I learnt about families and species for identification purposes, as I was working from specimens I had found in botanical gardens and in the wild. Because I became an artist and not a scientist I look for metaphor and personality in what I see, rather than perfection of species and systemisation.
During my last two years at the Royal College of Art 1967 – 70 however, while I was using Insects and Crustacea as a subject I generally took my ideas from 19th century entomological and zoomorphic drawings. I found the fine drawing and detail inspiring, then when I discovered seed pods in the mid 1980’s I began to work from life. In between these periods my work was mainly referential – I was inspired by particular paintings from the Tudor, Renaissance and later periods, fresco paintings from Pompeii and Greek icons. I would be struck by a particular image and reinterpret. Many years ago I was told by one of my teachers (Robert Addington) that I was an Expressionist. I think this still holds true today.
I am drawn to strange structures of many of the specimens I paint and can see that the spikiness and colouration of some of them correspond to the plants I encountered during my childhood in Africa, but had forgotten about until I returned there in 1982. I am beginning to make these and other connections with what I paint and what I experience. I began to distance myself from exacting anatomical portraiture of the plant subject and had moved from paper to canvas. I incorporated gold leaf, but the work became less iconographic, more colourfully related to the music I was listening to, mainly classical baroque.