Nubile Perfection

25/05/2017 - 17/06/2017

John Pastoriza-Pinol
Orchid IV (Oncidium x Hybrida)

watercolour on Arches 300gsm paper

60.00 x 45.00 cm

Nubile Perfection

‘It’s all about sex.’

One could leave commentary at that, but since most of us suffer at least in part from horror vacui, I will expand a little.

Back in the middle of the eighteenth century, when Carolus Linnaeus worked out a way of defining all living things, he realised that a key means of dividing up the Plant Kingdom was by looking at the reproductive parts of each plant: their flowers and seeds.

All botanical illustration, the images which accompany scientific descriptions of plant species, must pay close attention to these parts. Presenting an array of often weirdly shaped ovaries, stamens, pistils, petals and sepals, these illustrations often have a surreal quality that is entirely unintended. They are also often very beautiful, not that beauty has any real intended place in scientific description.

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, this body of work takes us in a very different direction.

While the flowers depicted are botanically accurate in every conceivable way, these works are more of a paean to the erotic beauty of each species and cultivar, drawn and painted in the full knowledge that the flower is itself the locus and focus of sexual reproduction. The colours and patterning of each petal and sepal exist to attract insect pollinators. It seems strange that so many floral parts seem to take on the appearance of the sexual organs of animals, or is that simply a reflection of our abiding fascination with sexuality? We perceive what we want to see.

Of course, some plants deliberately mimic the sexual pheromones of insects to attract pollinators, and one Australian species of orchid — which I am sure the artist will at some stage get around to depicting — has flowers that mimic the females of a particular species of wasp in order to entice the insect to copulate with it, thereby transferring pollen from one plant to another.

In the late eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries, ‘flower painting’ was regarded as a genteel lady’s pastime and even a spiritual exercise, given that flowers were so obviously the evidence of Divine Bounty. However, the works in this exhibition must not be approached in whispering reverence. These are not timid, frigid, shrinking violets or virginal mystic roses: Pastoriza-Piñol’s flowers are lush, potent, sensual celebrations of LIFE.

Gordon Morrison (Director, Art Gallery of Ballarat)


John Pastoriza-Piñol

“I can claim no special knowledge of horticulture… I even confess to enjoying that ignorance since it has left me free to react with simple pleasure just to form and colour, without being diverted by considerations of rarity or tied to the convention that a flower must be photographed at its moment of unblemished, nubile perfection.” (Irving Penn).

The 2011 documentary on Diana Vreeland, ‘The Eye Has to Travel’, provides an account of her love of the work by Irving Penn, one of the 20th century’s most prolific and influential photographers. His iconic status as a fashion photographer obscures some of the subtler and quieter work he is less ‘popularly’ known for ; his flower photography. Penn’s ‘Flowers’ series was initiated from an assignment by American Vogue for the 1967 Christmas edition. This became the first of seven annual projects which Penn did for Vogue and each year he would focus on a different class of flower.

Penn’s aesthetic approach to his botanic work is similar to his fashion photography. He documents the beauty and patterns within the cut flowers and focuses on the detail, form and mannered gestures of each specimen. Whilst these minimal and austere compositions are void of sentimentality, the flower shapes amplify sexuality, beauty, ageing and the limitation of our genes. However, even the most perfect bloom in a state of decay intrigued him; symbolic of faultier’s poise while highlighting the transitory nature of existence or providing a scrutiny of earth’s ebullient growth.

Artists have long used flowers as a metaphor to express a sense of sexual embodiment. Historically, female sexuality and morality were endowed with floral metaphors in a manner that masculine qualities were not. Flower petals are like clothing which portrays sexual self-expression, vanity as well as accentuated sexuality. However, Associate Professor Dominic Redfern outlines that with ‘botanical art we can still find the disciplines of art and science expressing their joint concern for the accurate description of the world. This genre of art-making is a sanctuary in which prose and poetry, truth and beauty, are not mutually exclusive’.

The vividly sensitive botanical works in this exhibition convey the hypernaturalism of each subject through the quality of light, colour and form, as well as demonstrating a sexually explicit form of voyeurism - the presence of sensuality in scientific representation. Sympathetic to Penn’s device, these paintings present blooms in their base singularity without derivative adjuncts. They are a meditation on Penn’s skilfully arranged and highly-organised compositions, which demonstrate his exemplary articulation of the abstract interplay of line and volume.

Unconsciously, the specimens represented here come from the Ranunculaceae, Liliaceae and Orchidaceae, and have developed into an assay of primitive/ evolved plants species, both symmetrical and asymmetrical, as well as evidence of human interference and control over nature. Penn’s photographic style is mimicked with plant parts disappearing off the page which ultimately inhabit a territory somewhere between scientific analysis and symbolic realism. As a result, they prompt a reading which goes beyond the purely representational. There are obvious androgynous metaphors represented in these enlarged heterotic hybridised flowers, creating a focal point on the freshly emerged sexual organs of the unblemished and unspoiled specimens, similar to young fashion models, a nubile perfection.


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.




By Appointment
Tuesday - Friday
11:00AM - 5:30PM
11:00AM - 4:00PM


Scott Livesey Galleries
610 High Street, Prahran
Victoria, Australia, 3181
+613 9824 7770