Landmark Exhibition At Kew Gardens To Explore The Fragility Of the Natural World

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Paradise Lost by Jan Hendrix, is on view from 4 April to 20 September 2020, at The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

The Remains, study for a tapestry, 2019 by Jan Hendrix © Jan Hendrix

Paradise Lost will be the first UK solo exhibition by Dutch-born, Mexico-based visual artist Jan Hendrix.  The landmark show at Kew Gardens, featuring new works in a number of mediums, will convey the artist’s response to the transformation of a particular landscape known as Kamay Botany Bay, in Sydney, Australia.

Kamay Botany Bay was once beautiful and pristine, teaming with endemic flora and fauna. It acquired its name thanks to the huge number of plants that were recorded and collected there in 1770 by European botanists sailing on the HMS Endeavour voyage to the South Pacific. The botanists, Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, collected hundreds of cuttings at the bay and along the Endeavour River in Queensland. They pressed each specimen within the loosely bound uncut pages of a 1719 book, Notes on Paradise Lost, by English writer Joseph Addison.

The Palm House and Parterre, Kew Gardens, London

Today, almost 250 years later, Kamay Botany Bay is virtually unrecognisable from that which the explorers found in 1770. Now, that landscape has been replaced by the suburbs of Sydney, an airport, a container port and an oil depot.

Paradise Lost will explore both the beauty and fragility of the natural world and its deterioration to make way for contemporary human existence. The historical material, collected by Banks and his companions, is the starting point from which Jan Hendrix has created a collection of beautiful and thought provoking art.

A vast monochrome tapestry will evoke the dynamic texture and beauty of an Australian landscape that may no longer exist, or that right now is endangered or is being destroyed by fire. A large-scale mirrored pavilion will form the centrepiece of the show, its intricate metallic form inspired by two plant species named after Banks and Solander, Banksia serrata and Banksia solandri. The immersive exhibition will also feature a striking series of silkscreen prints on silver leaf, enamel plates and other works besides, including a moving image work created by filmmaker Michael Leggett, in collaboration with Hendrix.

The show will begin with vitrines displaying some of the original historical material, on loan to Kew from the Natural History Museum, London. This will include botanical sketches made at the time by artist Sydney Parkinson, and some of the plants collected by Banks and Solander collected at Kamay Botany Bay.

Maria Devaney, Galleries and Exhibitions Leader at RBG Kew says: “This incredible exhibition by Jan Hendrix will highlight the devasting impact that we have as human beings on the planet, by using the example of Kamay Botany Bay and how it was irrevocably changed after 1770.”

“Through the prism of contemporary art, the exhibition at Kew will also draw attention to work of Joseph Banks. Today, Banks is relatively unknown, yet he was a hugely important figure in the advancement of the natural sciences. He later went on to be Kew’s first unofficial director under whose oversight the Gardens flourished as a centre of botanical research and exploration,” says Devaney. “Hendrix’s long-standing interest in the life and work of Banks coupled with his passion for plants and nature lays the foundation for what promises to be a ground-breaking exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.”

A book to accompany the exhibition will be published by Kew Publishing, with texts by Dawn Ades, Deborah Ely and Michael Leggett.

From 4 April to 20 October, there will also be a small display of exquisite paintings from the Shirley Sherwood Collection in the gallery. Flowers: Delight in the Detail will showcase the immense technical skill required to accurately depict the flower, with works from several botanical artists painting native plants from the UK, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Poland and the US.

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