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Art + Design Store – Friday Feature – Erythroxylon Coca

May 27, 2011

I’m so excited about having my new online Art + Design Store up and running, I thought I’d celebrate with a new weekly blog segment: the Art + Design Store – Friday Feature, where I talk a little about one of the artworks in the Store…

Today it’s the limited edition giclée print Erythroxylon Coca, which featured in my recent solo exhibition: Collected Patterns: The botany of Walter Hill. Part of a series of six giclée prints, printed on 100% cotton rag Hahnemühle fine art paper using long-life pigment inks, this white on black work was inspired by the dedicated research of Walter Hill, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens’ first and most significant curator (1855-1881).

Erythroxylon Coca is a native to western South America and is best know for its alkaloids, a powerful stimulant called cocaine. It grows up to 3m tall and the white/yellow flowers mature into red berries.

Traditionally grown in the lower altitudes of the eastern slopes of the Andes, Walter Hill experimented with its cultivation in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. In his 1877 Annual Report he writes about new plants of economic value being introduced into the Gardens: “… Erythroxylon Coca is highly valued by the inhabitants of Peru, Chile and Bolivia, not only as a medicine but as an article of food, and serves as a substitute for the tea, coffee, tobacco, and opium. The leaves are either chewed or used as a weak infusion, and are said to excite the nervous system in such a manner that muscular exertion is made with great ease.”

I find it surprising that Hill describes what we know as the highly addictive drug, cocaine, as a recreational substitute for tea and coffee? It must have been pretty interesting times in Brisbane back then, mind you, the forms he mentions would have been a lot weaker than today’s crack cocaine…

When I discovered this was one of the plants Hill studied, I had to include it in the exhibition because of the simple fact that we typically associate Botanical Gardens with purely decorative plants, not as a hot-house for experimentation (which was one of their prime functions) and I thought the plant’s beautiful form leant itself naturally to patternmaking…

Hope you enjoy the work, it’s facts and history as much as I did researching and making it. The prints are part of an edition of 10 and there are still some available in the Store.

So, what are you waiting for… go and grab yourself some Queensland history today!

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