Mat Collishaw presents Petrichor, a new exhibition at Kew Gardens

Friday 20 October 2023- Sunday 7 April 2024, Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew Gardens.


Release date: 9 August 2023

  • Acclaimed contemporary artist Mat Collishaw debuts new work at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew 

  • UK premieres includes Alluvion, a series of six new AI artworks inspired by Dutch Old Masters, and new video installation Even to the End 

  • Gallery premiere of Heterosis,an unprecedented flower hybridisation experience inspired by 17th century tulip mania

  • Other highlights include The Centrifugal Soul and Albion

  • Gallery entry included in Kew Gardens general admission; £1 Universal Credit ticket and £9 young person's ticket available

A new exhibition of work from celebrated contemporary artist Mat Collishaw comes to Kew Gardens from October 2023. Running in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Petrichor will showcase new commissions alongside existing works, drawing on an array of evocative imagery from the natural world. This exhibition will also encompass sculptural installations, using a variety of pioneering techniques to explore the relationship between the natural world, art history, and how representations of nature in art can impact the way in which we see the world around us. 


Receiving its UK premiere at Kew Gardens, Collishaw’s Alluvion series draws inspiration from 17th-century still life paintings of flowers. On closer inspection, paintings which at first glance appear to contain flowers are layered with several species of insect, illustrating a natural phenomenon known as Pouyannian mimicry, where a flower mimics a female mate for a pollinating insect. This is most common in orchids, where several species mimic female bees and wasps. Generated using carefully moderated AI, these innovative paintings reverse the insect/flower relationship in a potent visual metaphor for human interaction with 21st century technology. 

Even to the End

Another UK premiere, large-scale projected work Even to the End, will take over Gallery 2 and uses pioneering technology to immerse viewers in a 9-minute sequence inspired by the innovation of the Wardian Case and the transportation of plant specimens around the globe. The video is accompanied by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a composition which draws inspiration from Virgil’s Georgics, a poem about agriculture, propagation, and growth, and how humanity’s efforts to cultivate the land is constantly under threat from destructive powers. Even to the End has been created in collaboration with video artists based in Ukraine and presents a poignant journey through the natural world.  


Heterosis is a collection of dynamic NFT’s which combine genetic algorithms with blockchain technology to facilitate the hybridisation of mutable digital flowers. The project is inspired by the tulip mania of the 17th century, a period during the Dutch Golden Age which saw prices for tulip bulbs reach extraordinarily high levels, in what is now believed to be the first recorded speculative bubble in history. This unprecedented hybridisation experience allows participants to cultivate their own bespoke animated flowers, either as breeders or collaborative artists creating increasingly exotic and elaborate blooms for pleasure or as a means towards predicting future value. Heterosis will receive its global gallery premiere at Kew Gardens as part of Petrichor

The Centrifugal Soul

Also featured in the exhibition is The Centrifugal Soul, a zoetrope which creates a stunning illusion of motion. Revisiting a Victorian innovation which was the precursor of modern filmmaking, The Centrifugal Soul depicts an animated scene of bowerbirds and birds of paradise as they perform elaborate courtship displays against an ornate backdrop of flowers in perpetual bloom. The Centrifugal Soul explores how aesthetic diversity has evolved through the natural instincts of courtship and evolution and reflects on humanity’s seemingly never-ending search for aesthetic appeal. 

A hummingbird on a flower
The Centrifugal Soul, 2016 © Peter Mallet


Taking the form of an intricate 19th-century ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion, this large-scale piece depicts the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, which is estimated to have been standing for over 800 years. It is one of the largest oak trees in the country, with a mythical connection to Robin Hood. This slow rotating, almost life-sized animation has been captured using a laser scanner, creating the eerie spectre of a tree suspended somewhere between life and death. This artwork was created at the time of the European referendum and its title, Albion, refers to the ancient oak tree as an emblem of England, a ghost like apparition supported by chains and crutches.  

A large tree rendered in white against a black background
Albion © Mat Collishaw

Other works

Other works featured in the exhibition include Columbine and Whispering Weeds, animated versions of Albrecht Dürer’s watercolour paintings Columbine and The Great Piece of Turf. Widely regarded as early masterpieces in the field of botanical art, Dürer’s paintings are brought to life using animation, bringing these pioneering depictions of the natural world into the 21st century. Also on display is The Venal Muse, a series of sculptural pieces which draw inspiration from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil), poetry which explores decadence, eroticism, and lost innocence. 

Mat Collishaw says: “I’m delighted to be bringing this exhibition to Kew Gardens, a place that's not only steeped in history and natural beauty, but also provides the perfect setting for my work to be experienced in a new way. The natural world and its astonishing biodiversity are an abundant source of inspiration and provide seemingly endless opportunities for creation. I’ve always been interested in how nature is depicted through art, and how this in turn helps us understand the world around us. With its rich horticultural heritage and ongoing commitment to environmental conservation, Kew Gardens is the ideal location for me to explore the intersection of art, nature, and technology with this exhibition.” 

Maria Devaney, Galleries and Exhibition Leader at RBG Kew adds: “Bringing Mat Collishaw’s innovative work to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is hugely exciting, and Petrichor promises to be an evocative and wonderfully unique experience, unlike anything we’ve seen in the gallery before. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and the tradition of botanical art, Mat’s use of cutting-edge technology alongside the innovations of the past makes this exhibition a tantalising prospect for visitors to Kew this autumn.” 

An accompanying book, with text by James Parry, will be published by Kew Publishing. 

Young Botanical Artists 

Alongside Mat Collishaw’s work, Gallery 6 will showcase the winning entries from the Young Botanical Artist Competition, with finalists selected by leading botanical artists including Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE. Open to artists aged 16-25, this inaugural Young Botanical Artist competition has invited entrants to submit a 2D botanical artwork on the subject of Trees. All 40 shortlisted artworks will be on display.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is dedicated to harnessing the power of plants and fungi to end the extinction crisis and secure a future for all life on Earth. With Kew’s world-leading research, global partnerships and beloved gardens – home to the world’s most diverse collections of plants and fungi – Kew is using its trusted voice to shape policy and practice worldwide. As a charity Kew relies on the critical support of its visitors, not only to sustain the gardens, but to protect global plant and fungal biodiversity for the benefit of our planet and humanity.


Admission to the exhibition is included in a ticket to Kew Gardens. Pre-booking online offers the best value visit. 

For more information or images, please contact the Press Office at

Warning: Strobe (flickering) lighting is integral to a piece of artwork on display. Lower light levels are part of the exhibition - please allow time for your eyes to adjust.

Notes to Editors

About the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections and scientific expertise in plant and fungal diversity, conservation, and sustainable development in the UK and around the globe. Kew’s scientists and partners lead the way in the fight against biodiversity loss and finding nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, aided by five key scientific priorities outlined in Kew’s Science Strategy 2021-2025. Kew Gardens is also a major international and top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of historic, landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden and ‘living laboratory’, attract over 2.5 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to the Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world and a safeguard against the disastrous effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. RBG Kew received approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needs to support RBG Kew’s vital scientific and educational work comes from donors, memberships and commercial activity including ticket sales. For tickets, please visit In the first six months since implementing a new accessibility scheme for those in receipt of Universal Credit, Pension Credit and Legacy Benefits, Kew has welcomed over 30,000 visitors with £1 tickets.

About Mat Collishaw

Mat Collishaw (b. 1966) is a key figure in an important generation of contemporary British artists who emerged from Goldsmiths’ College in the late 1980s. He began his career exhibiting the acclaimed work Bullet Hole at the legendary show Freeze in 1988. His broad practice includes sculpture, photography, film and installation, and his work has been exhibited in numerous solo shows around the world, including: The Mask of Youth, Royal Museums Greenwich, London, UK (2018); Standing Water, Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, CZ (2018); Thresholds, Somerset House, London, UK and touring (2017-2018); Mat Collishaw, New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, UK (2015); Black Mirror, Galleria Borghese, Rome, IT (2014); Mat Collishaw: Afterimage, Arter, Istanbul, TR (2013); Mat Collishaw, Bass Museum of Art, Florida, US (2013); Retrospectre, BFI Southbank, London, UK (2010); Hysteria, Freud Museum, London, UK (2009).

Collishaw’s work is in numerous public and private collections including; Tate and British Council Collections, both London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Arter Foundation, Istanbul; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Old and New Art, New South Wales and Olbricht Collection, Berlin. The artist lives and works in London.

About the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art 

Located at Kew Gardens in London, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is the world’s first display space dedicated solely to this genre. Since it was opened in 2008 by Sir David Attenborough, the gallery has held over 50 exhibitions, welcomed more than a million visitors, and become the hub of the worldwide renaissance of botanical art. Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE studied botany at Oxford University before starting the Shirley Sherwood Collection in 1990. Thirty years on, the Collection includes over 1,000 paintings and drawings, representing the work of over 300 contemporary botanical artists from 36 countries around the world. The collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has been a huge success, with the gallery showcasing a huge diversity of botanical art, raising the profile of the genre and the plants it portrays. Its walls have seen paintings by renowned artists such as Margaret Mee and Rory McEwen, and collections from Brazil, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and the USA. As well as displaying pieces from the Shirley Sherwood Collection, the gallery hosts a roster of genre-pushing exhibitions by independent artists. Recent examples include the intricate graphite drawings of the UK’s oldest oak trees by Mark Frith, an immersive installation by British artist Rebecca Louise Law, and sculptures by Dale Chihuly and David Nash. Recent artists on display in the gallery have included Jan Hendrix, Andrew Parker, Zadok Ben-David, Pip & Pop and Anila Quayyum Agha.