Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 22, 2014

Cape Arid (2012), by Philippa and Alex Nikulinsky

Cape AridAs regular readers of this blog know, I love botanical art, and was thrilled to bits when Cape Arid arrived in the post from Fremantle Press.   It is a big (233 x 410cm) beautiful book of exquisite paintings, and if you are casting about for a gorgeous Mother’s Day gift, this could be the very thing…

Cape Arid is a national park about 1000km from Perth on the far south-eastern coast of Western Australia.  As you can see from the link to the park’s website, its remote location means that visitors must be entirely self-sufficient because in many places there is no water at all (hence the name) and the nearest shop is several hours drive away.  For Philippa and Alex, creators of this magnificent book, this remoteness offers the opportunity for solitude – beyond question one of the world’s greatest gifts and an indispensable aid to creativity. (p.5)  But as the text accompanying the illustrations makes clear, the location on the south coast means that the weather can be a real trial:

It is extremely difficult to draw or paint when the wind is howling, blowing gritty sand, or in another season, sleeting rain. On occasion in summer the temperature reaches 43 degrees and the flies are in their thousands covering every surface. (p.5)

On one occasion Philippa was attacked by bees… and of course there are also tiger snakes!

Alex’s striking B&W landscapes reveal the grand scale of the park and place the botanical paintings in context, complementing Philippa’s intricate paintings that bring into focus some of the detailed magic within the place.  The landscapes are moody and seemingly aloof, but the paintings are alive with plants and small animals, and the colours are a joy.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see WA wildflowers you will know how special they are, because many of them are found nowhere else in the world.  Separated from the rest of Australia by desert, plants in WA have evolved to take advantage of the unique ecology.  The size of this book allows these paintings to be seen to their best advantage, and the compositions are stunning.

Each painting is accompanied by a smaller painting with a numbered key, so that each plant and tiny animal can be identified.  I was particularly taken by the two little plovers in the first painting which opens out to show the same scene on three different dates.  The birds are so lifelike it is as if they are looking straight at the viewer, cautious but confident that they are safe where they are.  The colours in this painting range from the glorious pinks of the bush fig in the left foreground to the gentle yellow of hairy spinifex creeping down the dunes and a kaleidoscope of browns in the right foreground where there are sea urchins, abalone and a stint inspecting the carcase of a globefish.   Another favourite depicts a wily Southern Heath Monitor scrutinising kangaroo paw, wild geraniums, and the Cape Arid Kennedia, which is a sumptuous shade of red.

Bushfire is a natural part of life in the Aussie bush, and these paintings capture both the stark beauty of burnt branches and the sudden budding of new life.  This seems all the more astonishing in juxtaposition with a drawing like Seal Creek which shows just how rugged the landscape is and how quickly fire might race through it.  Philippa comments in her text that it was fire clearing the undergrowth that made it possible for her to gain access to some parts of the park where she was able to capture the spectacular forms of three different kinds of Banksia, my favourite of which is the cheerfully named ‘Nodding Banksia’.

No words of mine can do justice to this gorgeous book.  It is beautifully printed on expensive paper,  with lovely endpapers by the artist, and a sensuous textured dust cover.  It’s just gorgeous!

Authors and artists: Philippa and Alex Nikulinsky
Title: Cape Arid
Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781922089007 (Hardback)
Source: Review copy courtesy of Fremantle Press


Direct from Fremantle Press.

Or Fishpond: Cape Arid


  1. […] It’s a way of having beautiful things in my everyday life.  One of my favourites is Cape Arid by Philippa and Alex Nikulinsky which not only has exquisite art works but an accompanying texts about the joys and travails of […]


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