Story behind the art of Sharon Field 

Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Lord Howe Island Fig 

Ficus macrophylla f. columnaris
Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia

For this exhibition, I wanted to find a tree that met a number of criteria for me: the tree needed to be unique in some way, it had to have strong sculptural qualities to provide a dramatic image, and it needed to have qualities that would also provide a strong visual appeal for the viewer. I wanted a tree that would extend my technical expertise, and also important to me is that to paint something well, I have to fall in love and developing a relationship with my subject.  I usually spend a long time with my subject so I really need to work on something I love. 


There were many beautiful trees I could have selected, however there was something so beautifully fragile (yet strong), elegant, intricate and tactile about the Lord Howe Island Fig that it not only met those criteria but it just stood alone.


Lord Howe Island, a tiny island 6.8 miles long and 1.2 miles wide, sits 600 km (370 miles) off the east coast of Australia. It was first spotted by British Lt. Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788, while commanding the HMS Supply on a run between Port Jackson (Sydney) and the penal colony at Norfolk Island. It would be another half century before humans settled the island, making it one of the last untouched places on earth. This isolation, and minimal human interference, has led to an environment that has remained nearly intact.  Approximately 75% of the original forest stands, just as it has for countless millennia. The island has UNESCO World Heritage status. I had spent time on Lord Howe Island some years back and was fascinated by the unique vegetation.


The Lord Howe Island Fig. Ficus macrophylla f. columnaris is a fig tree endemic to this island. It is a banyan, similar to the Moreton Bay Fig, but having column-like aerial roots, many thick trunks, and somewhat smaller leaves. The cascading tresses of brownish hued aerial roots, falling from high branches, anchor themselves in the soil once they reach the ground.  Over time, competition between the roots allows some roots in the tresses to become dominant and they gradually grow and form strong, smooth grey coloured trunks.  Amazingly, this tree increases in area over time, forming multiple trunks from its aerial root system that can cover an area of up to 5 acres! And these trees can grow to 20 metres (66 ft) tall. 

The buttressed roots of the figs and the wonderful tangle of aerial roots have always captivated me. So when I saw this particular fig at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, it immediately held my attention, as it had when I first saw this tree on Lord Howe Island.

The tree has a canopy of leaves overhead, however this work has focused on the aerial roots and the lightly buttressed but strong trunks that have developed from the roots. The work shows two long cascades of roots coming from a branch high in the tree.  To the right of the roots is a complex of trunks, some of which seem to have fused together.  In the gaps formed by the trucks are hollows that also hold a mesh of fine roots coming from the trunk itself. The complex form of the main part of the trunk is made up of many smaller columns of trunks. The superfine detail of the aerial roots was a real challenge. I had to show the fineness of the roots and their intricate matting in a way that was truly three-dimensional.  Trying to get that depth through color and tone was certainly challenging. Even now when I look at it, I think “Now, how did I manage to do that!?”.

My work overall focuses on botanical subjects and views of botanical subjects that might be a little different from the norm. I love subject matter that has strong form in a sculptural sense. I have not worked on trees before, but having done this work has opened up a whole new world for my artwork.


I am a regular visitor to the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, which is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Australia.  The gardens are situated close to the original European settlement in Australia where my ancestors were transported as convicts in the early days of the settlement there. I love these gardens located on the shores of Sydney Harbour and the beautiful plants that have been planted there and cherished for so many years.



  • © 2017 Sharon Field
    Lord Howe Island Fig
    Ficus macrophylla f. columnaris
    Watercolor and graphite on paper
    27" X 19-1/2"