REVIEW: TWO WITH NATURE BY ELLEN HICKMAN & JOHN RYAN

TWO WITH NATURE

Author: Ellen Hickman & John Ryan
Fremantle Press RRP $35
Review: Monique Mulligan 

You’ve probably heard the phrase “at one with”, which is when something is characterised by unity. The cleverly titled fine art book, Two With Nature, fuses words and images, art and science to create an unusual and striking book about plants, flowers and birds from the isolated south-western corner of Western Australia.

Ellen Hickman is an illustrator and botanical scientist who captures the natural world in layers of fine detail and colour. Her drawings are exquisite in both detail and rendering. As I looked through this book, I was captivated as much by her talent as the beauty within one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Some of the drawings show a flower as a whole, while others deconstruct it, revealing the intricacy within. Her illustrations of birds are charming – in some, like that of a cheeky pink and grey galah, there are hints to the bird’s personality – it’s in the eyes.

Hickman’s illustrations are complemented by botanical poetry from John Ryan, exploring the inherently mysterious nature of the plant world. I won’t pretend to know a lot about poetry – it’s not a genre I have read much of since I was at school. I’m going to quote a line instead from a poem I particularly related to. It’s called “Inside a Jarrah tree, a black tunnel reaching skyward”.

neatly burnt-out innards

this tree lives on as skin,

still supple and twisting in pleats

but where did the heart go, and the breastbone

and the heavy, unctuous insides?

Earlier this week I walked through a jarrah forest and saw many burnt out trunks with new growth reaching for the sunlight. This poem matches that walk perfectly.

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For lovers of fine art, poetry and botanical images, this would make a beautiful book to pore over. It’s available from Fremantle Press.

This copy was courtesy of Fremantle Press.