Friday, April 22, 2011

Patrick O'Hara: An Ecological Artist

'The Star Lily and the Iris' by P. O'Hara
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a wonderful exhibition of botanical paintings and sculptures by the Cork-based artist Patrick O'Hara.

The exhibition is currently taking place in the Boole Library exhibition space at University College Cork and I enjoyed chatting to the artist about his work.

The exhibition predominantly features the artist's watercolours of Californian flora and fauna along with a selection of his impressive botanical sculptures.

O'Hara has travelled extensively from his home near Carrigaline, Co. Cork across Ireland, Britain, Europe, Africa, Arabia, Asia and America to study plants and butterflies in their natural habitats.

Speaking to O'Hara, his background in biology and botany in particular becomes clear and he has a keen interest in the science of the plants he seeks to capture in his art. He studied botany, zoology and geology at Reading University.

Each piece of sculpture and watercolour is the result of countless hours studying the organism in the natural environment and taking careful notes and sketches of the shape and colour of the plants. It is only when he returns to his studio that the work of painting or sculpting what has been recorded can begin. His delicate and scientifically accurate porcelain sculptures can take up to 3 months to produce and involves painting the pieces using the notes he made in the field to ensure that the correct shade is reproduced.

'A Proud Poppy of California' Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri) and Western Tiger Swallowtail. The artist writes: These huge and beautifully scented flowers belong to a family of plants first discovered in the Santa Ana mountains by Irish botanist Thomas Coulter during his travels around southern California between 1826 and 1836. The Latin name is tribute to him and his great friend, the Irish astronomer Romney Robinson.

What strikes me about O'Hara's work is not just the beauty and scientific accuracy, but also the decision to not present the plants in isolation but rather to present them as entire ecosystems where different plants, lichens, mosses, insects and butterflies interact. It is this detailed and realistic approach that makes O'Hara more an 'ecological artist' rather than a botancial artist.

Given the nature of Patrick O'Hara's work, it is fitting that it will shortly adorn the walls of Fota House in East Cork, the gardens and arboretum of which are a national botanical treasure. The artist is donating prints of each of his California wildflower watercolours to the Irish Heritage Trust who manage Fota House.

Patrick O'Hara's exhibition 'Secret Gardens of the World: The Wild Flowers of California' runs in the Boole Library, UCC until the 28th June 2011. For more information his work, you can visit

'Three Friends in Winter' porcelain sculpture by P. O'Hara. Ginger, Liquorice & Ephedra


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