Story Behind the Art of John Pastoriza-Pinol

Punica granatum L., pomegranate, is an ancient, mystical, unique fruit borne on a small, long-living tree which is native to the region of Persia and the western Himalayan range, and is now cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region and elsewhere.  Pomegranates are considered an emblem of fertility and fecundity, and have a strong affiliation to women. The pomegranate features prominently in myth and religion as a symbol of the seasons of death and rebirth.
Rich luminous hues and gorgeously exotic and rare botanical specimens epitomise John Pastoriza-Piñol’s work. 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.  
Today, botanical art is experiencing a resurgence, with artists adopting more contemporary interpretations and pushing the boundaries.  John ‘s work fits uniquely between both the centuries-old tradition of botanical illustration and current contemporary art:  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.
 His are much more than 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 .  Along with a tradition that spans back through centuries, there are much deeper themes being explored here.  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.
It’s certainly not a new notion –the intriguing characteristics of the plant world, sensual aspects of botanical illustration, and the analogies with human behaviour have long been a source of fascination.  Countless artists before John, even outside the field of botanical illustration, have used the depiction of flowers for centuries as metaphors to express other complex themes.  Georgia O’Keefe’s sensual floral imagery, Judy Chicago and Robert Mapplethorpe’s sublimely beautiful, meticulously composed floral works are undoubtedly meant to be translated as sexual metaphors.
But John has created a distinctive iconography in his work.  The innovative and unique quality of his work comes from his exceptional ability to create a tension between the beauty and perfection of the specimen depicted and the symbolism with which it is infused.  For a lesser artist this might be seen as an insolent thumb-in-the-nose towards the formal requirements of botanical art.  
However John’s ability to render his subject with meticulous accuracy enables him to uphold that formalism, as well as to reveal to us something about the darker aspects of our own nature, perhaps showing us some of what we can learn from the natural world. 
Parts of this have been excerpted and adapted from an exhibition review by Kim Anderson,
  • (C) John Pastoriza-Pinol