This series was inspired by botanical illustrations from the medical folio ‘Khwass-Al-Ashjar’, one of the earliest Islamic manuscripts translated from the Greek ‘De Materia Medica’ by Dioscorides. I had studied this and other 13th century Arab Manuscripts such as ‘Kalila wa Dimna’ at SOAS, London University.
Happening across the image from the folio recently, I was interested in the liveliness of the plant drawn with its flowers and roots, the curve of the text and the healing nature of the work. The contrast of darker colours against a paler background and stylisation of the forms also appealed to me.
I decided to visually interpret the essence of different flowers and plants, using essential oils such as Vetiver, Lavender Bergamot and Peppermint as a starting point. Similar to the different flavours in food, I began to notice different layers in the fragrances, ones that were more immediate and others that crept in. Initially, I relied on the fragrance to determine my colour choices. After a point however, the paintings started to develop on their own and as I progressed through the series, my visual response to the same fragrance also changed.
In terms of technique, I found myself holding the brush at an arm’s length and working much more from the wrist. Reading up on the origins of oils later was interesting as many were described in terms of taste, eg bergamot was described as having a Citrus like aroma and spicy undertone and made me more aware of the connections between our senses.