Floria Tosca: Bearing Witness

Floria Tosca’s practice, which encompasses painting, drawing and animation, illuminates the dualities of existence; strength and fragility, the beautiful and grotesque, life and death. Tosca was raised in a rural setting that nourished her communion with the natural world. The artist possesses sensitivity to our impact upon the environment, as well as nature’s place in our psyche. This complex relationship of the organic and human footprint often plays out in her compositions with what is mythical, bizarre or overlooked.

Your work conjures a tiny yet fantastical universe where insects and plant life abound. How did your formative years in a rural setting influence your concepts and choice of medium?

Growing up on a 5-acre farm on the outskirts of Sydney, I felt isolated. My family was very insular, and we were the only part Asian immigrant family living in the area. The animals became my companions. I could be myself completely with them; they were wonderful company and asked for very little in return. Upon reflection, I think I related to their voicelessness. I think I’ve carried that with me through my life and express it through the work when depicting animals and insects peering at us, or in acts of natural motion. Advocating for them and doing so through joy and delight motivates me.

I use animal skins and feathers to draw and print on. 

Floria Tosca, Utopian immersion, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 137cm. Courtesy the artist and Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney

Your rendering in watercolour, pencils on paper and acrylic on canvas is reminiscent of animation. How is narrative important in your work?

I think our ability as a species to tell stories is what makes us, more than anything, quintessentially human. Our families, our tribes, even ourselves, are the sum total of the stories we tell each other. They help us understand what has gone before, who it is we are, and what it is we can become. A single image can describe complex narratives, and when those images move and make sound, it is mesmerising.

Insects and flora may be perceived as forgotten, what action or feeling do you hope to compel?

I think living in an urban environment it is easy to lose sight of the real function of insects, and flora too of course. Indeed most insects we encounter are viewed as pests or unwanted, when in fact, they are vital to our existence, they are the caretakers of the cycle of life and death. In a more rural setting, however, the interplay between plant and animal becomes a celebration of the abundance of life and our connection to the natural landscape. I hope to compel people to pause and reconnect with that feeling of abundance and interconnectedness. I believe that through positive connection we can instigate change. Whether that’s to fight for change on a global scale or to slow down and be present to something simple and beautiful, altering our neurochemistry positively.

Floria Tosca, Ladybird Ladybird, acrylic on canvas, 138 x 108cm. Courtesy the artist and Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney

Can you tell us more about the duality of existence in nature, for example, strength and fragility, beautiful and grotesque, and how this concept is important to you? 

I feel our culture drives us to do more, be more, be strong, be beautiful, or else we are failing somehow. I don’t believe that is healthy or sustaining. There can be no new life without death, triumph needs failure, and beauty needs the grotesque. All these states are important and interdependent. I want to paint the unwanted and discarded beautifully.

How have you stayed creative in lockdown?

I was fortunate to be able to work in the studio throughout the lockdown. My partner was unable to work, so we swapped roles, and he became the primary carer for our children and for the first time since becoming a mother, I was able to work every day. It was incredible. I found our human plight, as it affected the entire globe in a way nothing else has ever done, extraordinary, and it stimulated my practice. I thought about my work and its relevance or utter irrelevance, about our relationship with animals and how that was what instigated this whole pandemic, about bats and snakes and medicine. I felt that the animals were ‘bearing witness’ to our plight. There is a deep beauty in not averting the gaze.

Flinders Street Gallery
15 August to 15 September 2020