Rich luminous hues and gorgeously exotic and rare botanical specimens epitomise John Pastoriza-Piñol’s work, however his are much more than mere flower paintings: closer inspection reveals a certain ambiguity of form and intent directing us towards a dark and complex narrative. The familiarity and pleasure we derive from looking at a depiction of a beautiful plant or flower is somewhat challenged, and the artist suggestively urges us to look beyond the aesthetic and move into slightly more uneasy territory.
While his paintings are botanically accurate and the verisimilitude is exceptional, purists might say that they do not strictly conform entirely to the precise definitions of botanical art. They inhabit a territory somewhere between scientific analysis and symbolic realism, prompting a reading that goes beyond the purely representational and literal. The artist himself says he aims to engender an appreciation for contemporary botanical art and accurate realism, however critical to his creativity is the exploration of an elaborate narrative in the deliberate choice and composition of his subject matter – he cites the unusual and macabre as enduring influences.
John has developed a distinctive iconography in his work, and his colour palette is extraordinarily vivid. A master of his medium, his perfectly executed watercolours remain true to the accuracy that is vital to botanical illustration yet they have a fluidity and sensuality that stirs the viewer to experience more than a mere marvelling of technique. A sense of unease is created by the recurrent use of certain motifs that are uniquely his own: floating subjects devoid of shadows, minimalist compositions, clever use of negative space, and notably the broken or torn branches of his specimens. The scientific, the decorative and the subversive are daringly combined to create a contemporary narrative that goes far beyond the art of close observation: subtexts of separation, birth, death, sexuality, anxiety and the human experience elicit a more emotional response in his audience.
Gordon Morrison, Director, Art Gallery of Ballarat, notes that:
“As a trained botanical artist of the first order, John Pastoriza-Piñol is completely au fait with the Linnaean system, and can create illustrations which have a strictly scientific function, where aesthetics are a secondary consideration. However, his latest work takes us in a very different direction. These are not timid, frigid, shrinking violets or virginal mystic roses: Pastoriza-Piñol’s flowers are lush, potent, sensual celebrations of life.”
John completed his docturmiento in Botany at University of Vigo, Galicia, in Spain. On returning home to Australia, he was encouraged to formally study botanical illustration at the Botanical Art School of Melbourne under the direction of Jenny Phillips, one of the most influential Australian botanical artists and renowned around the world. The transition from amateur to professional was relatively brief for John, prompting him to develop his own style and exhibit further afield. He began showing work at the Royal Horticultural Society winter shows in Westminster London. Immediately after his Gold medal winning show in 2005, John Adams, curator of Ebury Galleries in London, offered him his first ever solo exhibition of botanical art to coincide with the 2006 Chelsea Flower Show. The exhibition was formally opened by the then Australian High Commissioner, His Excellency the Honourable Richard Alston, and was attended by many fine art collectors. It was an extraordinary opportunity for John to exhibit at a prominent fine art gallery in the heart of London.
Success from the UK exhibition resulted in his work being selected for inclusion in the Highgrove Florilegium, a project created under the aegis of the Prince of Wales’ Charitable Foundation that celebrated and permanently recorded the flora in the garden at Highgrove. His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, kindly invited John and others involved in the Highgrove Florilegium to visit the garden at Highgrove in July 2008. John’s work has been selected for inclusion in the Transylvania Florilegium presently being created under the umbrella of the Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania to record in a permanent way the flora of Transylvania.
John was represented by Nellie Castan Gallery in South Yarra, Victoria, one of Australia’s most respected galleries committed to exhibiting emerging and mid-career artists. In 2012 he presented an exciting new body of work for his fourth solo exhibition at Nellie Castan Gallery. Titled Hermes-Aphrodite, the slightly provocative depiction of exotic botanical specimens alluded to the gender lines in our society which are becoming increasingly blurred, and the fact that our bodies are the site and subject of on-going debate and contention. Of John’s work, director Nellie Castan says it has “enormous appeal with many audiences and continues to enrich the quality of Australian contemporary art.”
John’s work is now held in numerous public and private collections around the world including: Hunt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London; State collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne; RMIT University and the Collection of Alisa and Isaac M. Sutton, to name a few. Along with private commissions, John is actively showing his work globally and has secured international venues in London, Paris, New York and Madrid. Being a recipient of many awards and accolades has afforded him international recognition. John teaches intermediate/advanced classes at the Geelong Botanic Gardens, and has expanded his teaching circuit to include interstate and international master classes demonstrating his unique approach to the art form.
In 2016, John was awarded a grant from The Australia Council for the Arts which included an arts residency in New York, where he created a new collection of paintings based on the work of Irving Penn which was exhibited at Scott Livesey Galleries, Melbourne in May 2017. The successful exhibition titled ‘Nubile Perfection’ was a reference to Irving Penn’s botanical photographs and the works inhabited a territory somewhere between scientific analysis and symbolic realism, prompting a reading that goes beyond the purely representational. Works in this exhibition highlighted the inherent hypernaturalism, quality of light and its penetration on the chosen subject matter. This exhibition has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body via the Arts projects for individuals grant. Timing for this exhibition coincides with The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s major retrospective of Penn’s photographs, opening in April 2017 to mark the centennial of the artist’s birth.
John is constantly planning exhibitions around the world as well as an intensive teaching circuit. For the updates on John’s activities please refer to the News & Events section.