Artist Kate MacDowell uses porcelain clay to craft her nature-inspired works. MacDowell’s works are realistically sculpted and meticulous. Hollowing out a solid form and building each piece leaf by leaf and feather by feather, she intimately involves herself with the process of building. The works themselves are beautiful, ghostly white and evoke a very serene feeling. Upon a closer examination, however, things aren’t quite right. A large bird has human hands instead of its normal claws, and an apple has a tiny skull inside of it. Mice have ears on their backs. MacDwell explains in a statement, writing:
In my work this romantic ideal of union with the natural world conflicts with our contemporary impact on the environment. These pieces are in part responses to environmental stressors including climate change, toxic pollution, and gm crops. They also borrow from myth, art history, figures of speech and other cultural touchstones. In some pieces aspects of the human figure stand-in for ourselves and act out sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous transformations which illustrate our current relationship with the natural world. In others, animals take on anthropomorphic qualities when they are given safety equipment to attempt to protect them from man-made environmental threats. In each case the union between man and nature is shown to be one of friction and discomfort with the disturbing implication that we too are vulnerable to being victimized by our destructive practices.
The careful construction and fragility of material MacDowell has chosen coincides conceptually with her work.
Bristol artist Camila Carlow creates these lovely renderings of human organs by foraging for wild plants, weeds, and the occasional animal part and then sculpting and arranging these various bits of flora. Her series, entitled “Eye ‘Heart’ Spleen,” recontextualizes images of organs such as a heart, lungs, stomach, uterus, liver, and testicles, demonstrating the reflection of internal biological structures with external natural structures. From Carlow’s site, “This work invites the viewer to regard our vital structures as beautiful living organisms, and to contemplate the miraculous work taking place inside our bodies, even in this very moment.” You can order prints and keep up with this particular project’s developments via its Facebook page. (via unknown editors)
The human relationship with the natural world is a complex one that doesn’t seem to untangle anytime soon. With animal life increasingly being abused and habitats encroached upon anxiety is understandably mounting. Artist Chris Musina address these issues in painting and also sculpture. Musina depicts the uglier side of the human/animal relationship. Rather than highlight idyllic scenes of nature, he draws gruesome imagery of animal mistreatment to the forefront. Animal carcasses are often kept as trophies, dead souvenirs of a once living creature. Painting’s tradition of depicting killed animals is extensive – the fox hunt alone, for example, an entire genre. Appropriately, then, Musina’s animal carcasses are not there to be admired but act as animals condemning the viewer. They seem to be holding an accounting for their present condition in the painting as well as in a larger abstract sense. They act as a tool to deconstruct disassociation. Musina further explains his use of painting in addressing ecological and animal issues:
“Dealing directly with our increasingly volatile and uneasy relationship to the natural world, I draw from contemporary animal thought and a deep phylogeny of cultural cues. My work dismantles how we look at animals via “nature morte” painters, philosophy, hunting, museum dioramas, and the like. Manifested in life size compositions full of dark humor and bright color, I am addressing the animal as neither symbol nor object, but as subject, a subject aware of his or her own powerful symbolic nature. Painting represents the bulk of my practice precisely due to its place in the forefront of a history of representing animals. My paintings are populated with animal protagonists who stare back at the viewer in an uneasy gaze; aware of that place in our cultural history– asking for compassion, mercy, or simply to be put out of their misery.”
San Francisco-based metalsmith and neon artist Meryl Pataky has shared with us some behind-the-scenes moments from her studio, as she gears up for her next solo project, Cellar Door.
Working exclusively with elements from the periodic table, Pataky uses a collision of phrase and loose linework to give life to her concepts—silver, copper, iron, carbon, neon and all of the noble gases are integral to her investigations. For her latest collection of work, Pataky is creating a series of signage-based installations that attempt to coexist with natural elements. Matching up blown glass with honey, and pairing neon lettering with leafy underbrush, she explores the effect that context and concept have on her luminous, typically commercial medium. The vivid colors and natural, flowing use of line in her pieces echo a mastery of medium, and her nods to just the right amount of science geekery are playful and perfectly timed.
Marco Mazzoni’s work softly drips with an exquisite ease of darkness. From blooming faces where birds gather to a rabbit draining with butterfly wings, each image surrealistically depicts folklore infused with spiritual healing properties that twist and twirl with our own imaginative connections to nature.
To elaborate, Jonathan Levine Gallery notes, “Mazzoni’s imagery references herbalist traditions and Sardinian folklore of mystical seductresses who enchant, curse and cure. His body of work is a tribute to the legacy of female healers throughout history. These women held an important role in medieval communities yet their ancient knowledge of the natural healing properties of medicinal plants was widely feared by the Church, viewed as witchcraft and cause for persecution.”
The sculptures of Naoko Ito are elegant in their simplicity. Indeed, these pieces are entirely constructed of only two materials: a tree and jars. A limb of a tree is cut into several segments and each segment, in turn, is placed in a jar. Naoko carefully arranges the jarred pieces to reconstruct the shape of the limb. A subdued commentary on the relationship between humans and nature, the imagery is immediate all the same. Though the shape and size of the tree limb is intact, the jarred branches are nearly gloomy.
Sven Lamme seems to playfully sit on the fence, so to say, between art and design. In collaboration with landscaper Terra Incognita, Lamme constructed these three “seating elements” throughout a nature preserve in the Netherlands. They at once serve as kind of landmark for the natural surroundings as well as a means to passively interact with the environment. Lamme also makes use of visual puns in the design of his seating elements. The first seat a literal interpretation of sitting on the fence, and the third resembling a buoy – a reference to the lands elevation below sea level.
Living in cities, not only do we forget that we’re a part of the natural world, but it’s easy to forget how truly awesome the natural world can be. Occasionally, though, we’ll get lost or go camping and see a world of seemingly inanimate structures that are not only alive but full of color and crawling in and over one another and feel like we have found another world. Allison Gildersleeve has definitely felt this way, as her paintings are all about the wild wild wilderness– its colors, life, fractal chaos–that we too easily overlook. From a distance, Allison’s work looks almost expressionist, but as you look more, you notice meticulously painted shapes that look more and more like trees and branches and realize what she really seems like she’s trying to express is the impression the awe of the natural world has on her. One kick back to living in the cities is that when you go back out to the wilderness, it really does seem wild. If you haven’t seen it for a while, get some camping and swimming in while you still can and take a few minutes to look at the world that’s living and breathing around you.