An Homage to Nature: Dominika Keller Interview
A passionate artist and equally passionate gardener, Dominika Keller’s love of plants is unmistakably reflected throughout her art and botanical illustrations. Likewise, Dominika’s love of art is also reflected in how she gardens. Based in the abundant greenery of the Yarra Valley, she is never short of inspiration and finds a sense of meditation through the process of slowing down and creating these homages to nature. We recently spoke to Dominika on her practice that endeavours to capture the beauty in the simple, a connection to the earth and to others near and far.
The innate need to create combines with a deep love of plants and being in the garden and nature; a fondness she has had for as long as she can remember. “My earliest memories as a child include both picking flowers from my grandmother’s little inner city garden in Warsaw, Poland, and drawing them repetitively, sometimes drawing on the walls because they were the perfect blank canvas,” Dominika recalls. “Drawing, painting, picking flowers and growing plants have all been a steady presence in my life. Creativity and its gifts have been a constant for me, although it is only recently as my children have got older that I have had the opportunity to dedicate time and develop myself as a full time artist.”
With an ongoing career as a botanical illustrator, Dominika cites creating hyper-realistic, scientifically accurate depictions of botany as the foundations for the work she is currently creating. “I am developing myself as a more expressive artist from these foundations, but it can sometimes be really difficult switching from seeing things from a scientific point of view, to representing them more freely,” Dominika explains.
“I love both art forms and often describe botanical illustration as an intellectual pursuit of my soul and my still life pieces as work from my heart. My still life work is also a little bit of a rebellion from the perfectionism of botanical illustration where I give myself permission to celebrate the more expressive side of myself with visible brushstrokes, texture, overemphasised shadows and vivid colours, and yet still try to capture the delicate intricacies of plants and objects.”
While there is continuity in the subject matter of Dominika’s portfolio, her choice of medium is an intuitive process that depends on what it is she is trying to capture and how it is to be represented. Expect to see the flowing, delicate texture typical of watercolours in her work, as well as acrylics and drawings with oil pastels that create an equally smooth, paint-like surface.
Flowers picked from the garden, houseplants, collections of shells and other happy mementos contribute to the nurturing and energising space Dominika Keller calls home. “[They are] things that make me happy, usually because they evoke memories of loved ones,” Dominika explains. “Finding inspiration is never a problem. It’s finding the time to paint and draw everything that inspires me that’s always my biggest issue. It can be frustrating at times, especially when the subject matter is the last flower of the season or one that deteriorates in the space of a day.”
“Over the years I have inherited a lot of crystal, books and other precious items from my grandparents and other family members and friends. I love to include these in my paintings as a way of connecting with loved ones who have passed and people dear to me that I don’t get to see often. Other objects that appear in my works evoke memories of holidays or special events. At times, something as simple as cutting up oranges for my boys, inspires me to include them in a piece instead of being eaten, because the citrus flesh looked particularly beautiful or luscious.”
Studio days often begin for Dominika with a walk in the garden, harvesting flowers and the ready produce from her veggie patch. The composition for a new piece will evolve from what is brought inside and where she places these objects. “Although I have a dedicated studio, I often find myself falling in love with a corner of my home and taking over our living spaces with paints, brushes and canvases. Thankfully my family are very tolerant of my artistic mess, as well as the ever growing collection of indoor plants and various vessels!”
As viewers of Dominika Keller’s work, we are invited to glimpse into an artist’s life and the small things she loves and cherishes most in the day-to-day. “When I am missing family or homesick for my country of birth, the objects that evoke memories of these people and places will be represented in my artwork. My art gives the viewer a very personal insight into my private life, that I happily share through what I create, even though I think I am quite a private person in other ways.”
While many of us feel the current shift in daily life, Dominika remains somewhat unfazed by the change. “Like with most artists, I usually work from my home studio in a solitary environment. The current situation with people self isolating is pretty much my everyday, except that my boys are home from school and although I am loving having them with me, I don’t have much time to be creative during the day time. I’ve become a bit of a night owl, occasionally painting into the wee hours of the morning.”
Dominika’s knack for seeing value in the quotidian transmits throughout her pieces and unequivocally asks us to stop and do the same. Being able to sell her art online from her studio has meant that Dominika can still share her gift with others. “I have loved selling my work through Bluethumb. Apart from being a very easy to use platform, the wonderful staff who work there are incredibly supportive of Australian artists, and continually market the online gallery in different ways, promoting art and artists on a daily basis, so the art is out there being seen by collectors who then also have an incredibly diverse selection of art to choose from.”
Dominika Keller was recently a finalist in this year’s SBS Portrait Prize and has continued to show undulating spirit through her work in unsteady times. No one knows for certain what the future will bring, but we have a feeling Dominika will still be the cool, collected horticulturist we see today. Browse more of her slow-living still lifes on her Bluethumb profile.