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From Scientist to Printmaker: Two Worlds Combine in New Exhibition of Botanical Art in Canberra

Emerging artist Kim Bagot-Hiller brings her background as a scientist to her keen observations of Australian native flora in a new exhibition Point of Difference running April 19 – May 21, 2017 at the National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. Kim is assisted in presenting this exhibition through a newly won grant from Arts NSW and National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), one of just ten such grants awarded last week across the state.

The 30 new works in the exhibition have been inspired by an artistic residency at the Burrendong Botanic Garden Arboretum near Wellington NSW.  Bagot-Hiller has focused on grevilleas, hakeas and eucalypts and wanted to show elements of difference in the plants.

Bathurst-based Kim Bagot-Hiller has a background as an environmental scientist. But even as a science student (she studied Environmental Science then Spatial Information Systems at university) she spent most of her time in botany drawing the plants: “I was one of the students who instead of photocopying diagrams I drew them. I spent 98% of my time drawing and I loved drawing from the microscope,” Kim said. “You learn more if you draw it and drawing was a learning mechanism for me in botany.”

Indeed she’d always had a love of drawing: “My grandmother – who had books with beautiful watercolours – taught me how to draw with fountain pens. She was the first person to teach me how to draw flowers,” she recalls.

About 12 years ago she was working as an environmental consultant – in bushfire prevention and later the mining sector – but realised that her passion was for visual arts and so searched out art courses.

“I jumped in at the deep end at a Mitchell Summer School with [botanical artist] Barbara Duckworth… I ended up drawing a pineapple lily,” Bagot-Hiller recalls. In 2014 she studied a Diploma of Visual Arts at TAFE in Orange with tutors Heather Vallance, Bridgit Thompson and acclaimed Australian printmaker Tim Winters. She also took a master class at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in botanic drawing.

Kim Bagot-Hiller now specialises in printmaking and illustrative techniques. This, she says, allows her to cross the boundaries of art and science. She says she loves printmaking because “there is still quite a sciencey aspect to it.” The work is not “pure botanical illustration”, she says, instead the prints take a more free-flowing form. Artworks for the National Botanic Gardens exhibition are made in drypoint etching on Perspex and aluminium copper sulphate aquatint (which looks like watercolour paint when finished).  “The Aquatint is a very gentle, very soft style,” Bagot-Hiller says.

The artist has been experimenting with a combination of both techniques along with graphite rendering and prints onto speciality papers, sometimes handmade. She’s also been playing with techniques like metalpoint. She begins each work by sketching before the meticulous process of transferring the image to plates and making prints. The aluminium plates can take up to 14 hours each to produce (the Perspex plates take up to 12 hours).

Kim Bagot-Hiller has held exhibitions at Grenfell Art Gallery (2016) and Rosebank Gallery and Guesthouse Millthorpe (2016). She’ll exhibit in Atherton (Queensland) in September 2017 and at Wellington (NSW) Springfest in 2017.  This year Kim returns to university to study a Masters in Creative Practice (through CSU Wagga) where she’ll be looking at the bridge between science and art.

This project was assisted by a grant from Arts NSW, an agency of the New South Wales Government and supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian State and Territory Governments. The program is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

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