From a collage of dead shells to fish out of water, Australia's richest natural history art prize is pushing the boundaries and including more contemporary works.
The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize depicts Australia's natural history through art, but local artist Vanessa Barbay believed the art prize had broadened and diversified for the better since its inception in 2002.
Her painting Avian Spectre was among 34 prize-winning and highly commended works on display at the National Archives of Australia yesterday.
The exhibition of top entries, chosen from more than 800 entrants, reflected the intricate detail and grandeur of nature.
Avian Spectre depicted a dead chough, which Barbay had found dying on a suburban road.
Her fascination with dead animals, she said, was linked to her father's profession as a taxidermist.
She decided to carry it on through art.
''I've got collections of dead wildlife,'' Barbay said.
''I'm interested in the physical form when death occurs.''
The exhibition was developed by the South Australian Museum and the archives will be the only venue outside Adelaide to host the winning works in the competition. Art prize coordinator Tim Gilchrist, from the South Australian Museum, said the exhibition was unique because each artist was inspired by nature when creating their works.
The natural history museum aims to continue the link between art and science.
''Celebrating natural history through art is a way of drawing attention to nature and to conservation and to messages of the environment,'' Mr Gilchrist said.
''It gives people a new perspective on natural history.''
Mr Gilchrist said the prize inspired artists to explore new ways of producing art.
Over the years he had noticed an improvement in the quality of work.
Julie Blyfield, overall winner of the art prize this year, was inspired by marine life when creating a series of bowls.
Queanbeyan glass artist Erin Conron was highly commended in the sculpture and objects category. Net Work (Tall Mesh), a 6kg piece made at the Canberra Glassworks, explored her interaction with the landscape, which she see as a series of patterns.
''The prize gives us the opportunity to explore the natural world's beauty,'' Conron said.
The 2011 Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize is at the National Archives of Australia until November 13.