Weed Life: The Paintings of Matilda Julian

Words by
Amber Creswell Bell
| March 12, 2015

There’s a lengthy list of undomesticated or feral plants generally considered to be “weeds” – and many gardeners stage unrelenting warfare against them, in an effort to eradicate such scourge from their gardening midsts. Yet, it is these same humble plants that are often found to have glowingly positive uses, from companion plants in gardens to the production of useful medicines.

'Weed Still Life'
'Weed Still Life'

Weeds such as dandelion, golden rod, milkweed, nettle, purslane and Queen Anne’s lace have long been used for a range of ailments – from skin irritation to dysentery, to tinnitus and even contraceptives!

It’s always nice to find people – and indeed artists – who are giving humble weeds the gravitas they deserve.

Matilda Julian is an artist who was once a lawyer. She moved “out west” from Sydney (first Dubbo, then Geurie 5 years ago) for a law job with the Aboriginal Legal Service. Matilda fell completely in love with her house in Geurie, and has been there ever since, where, after quitting law, she now owns a little cafe. It was here that she met Violet last November – a newcomer to town who was very knowledgeable about weeds, and conducted a little edible weed tours for locals.

“Violet was so knowledgeable on edible weeds! And it was something I was so interested in because I’ve found it quite hard to grow veggies out west – yet we can find weeds everywhere, and they often do the same trick. We became friends fast and the edible weeds tour seemed natural, “ says Matilda.

Geurie, being the open community of people that it is, ate it up. Matilda and Violet went on further to put weeds in the shop and people’s interest was well and truly whet. When asked why she thought the town took to weeds so readily, Matilda tells me “Out here, where it’s so dry for so long, it seems time we thought of different ways of eating and growing. Also because fossicking doesn’t cost money and it’s fun – meals are somehow more rewarding! “

Not content to leave weed adoration at just the practical level – Matilda has sought to exalt weeds to the rather loftier heights of creative muse! Having been asked by the owners of Alby & Esthers to exhibit in their café & wine bar – it seemed perfect to do an exhibition all about weeds, thus titled Weed Life. Matilda will be creating still life paintings of arranged weeds, while Violet is writing nutritional and medicinal instructions to accompany the paintings.

Weed Life is about thinking about edible and medicinal weeds… a way we can get people looking out for them and talking about them more. I’ve painted them mostly as every day still lifes because they are everyday kind of plants that we could be using in our daily lives “ explains Matilda. “It’s something I’m proud of because it’s developed from community and friendship, and an interest in nature and looking after our land.

One of the happy offshoots of investing time in this show, is that it has also stretched Matilda’s skills as a painter, “Weeds are generally not so pretty nor colourful – or easy to paint for that matter! My works are diverse, according to my frustration and patience – and the colours on my palette that day. The last one I painted was all the things I had put together for the other paintings – vases and jars and dead flowers and brushes and containers and vegetables – and I just wanted it over but it turned into what I think is my favourite painting ever” she says.

When asked what her favourite weed is, Matilda tells me it is fennel. “Because it’s so versatile and is everywhere and smells amazing. But I’ve found it’s a bugger to paint because it’s so spindly… and I’m more of a slapstick painter”.

There are now plans afoot to turn the images into a 2016 calendar – to make eating and using weeds a more mainstream idea.

Weed Life, painted by Matilda and inspired by Violet – will show at Alby & Esthers wine bar in Mudgee from 27 Feb to 27 March.

Matilda’s floral still lifes will also be part of FLEURT, a group show to be held at Saint Cloche gallery in Paddington, Sydney in May 2015.

'Wild Lettuce as Tea'
'Wild Lettuce as Tea'
'Amaranth and Milk Jug'
'Amaranth and Milk Jug'
'Dandelion in Bottles'
'Dandelion in Bottles'
'Wild Lettuce and Pink Roses'
'Wild Lettuce and Pink Roses'
'Secateurs and Dandelion'
'Secateurs and Dandelion'
'Geraniums and Plantain'
'Geraniums and Plantain'

LIKE WHAT YOU'RE READING? SIGN UP FOR MORE