I believe it is impossible for any visual artist to be complacent about climate change and the loss of wildlife and wild places on our planet. To preserve our own lives and avoid catastrophe, we need to act very quickly and change many aspects of our lives. The problem I experience as a visual artist, is how to express this through my work.
Beneath the seemingly varied subject matter of visual art as seen in portraits, landscape, still life, is the underlying subject: an attempt to understand and give shape and meaning to our lives as conscious human beings. Art is essentially ambiguous precisely because we can never fully understand our true subject. In that sense Visual Art is not active, it is reflective. It is also (usually) the product of an individual. It cannot say directly how we should act without sacrificing the integrity of its project.
We need to believe in the existence of wild unexplored places on our planet, and feel it important that we know they are there, even if we never experience them directly. Why else would we show our young children pictures of animals and birds they have not yet seen, and may never see. We tell stories that value the idea of the wild, of mountains, seas, islands, places full of unfamiliar plants and animals.
We know we would be diminished as humans beings if they no longer existed.
Our urge to explore places new to us and to experience nature directly is all the stronger when, as city dwellers, we are so far removed from it in everyday life. We are a part of nature and we struggle to re-connect with it. Tourism is an expression of our desire for new experiences and of our desire to possess them as a part of ourselves or our image of ourselves. Worldwide our economies have been exposed by the COVID 19 pandemic as highly dependant on all kinds of tourism. And yet we know that Venice cannot survive large cruise ships, nor the Arctic support their intrusion. Tourism, even ‘eco-tourism’ feels like a part of this urge to possess things, even fleeting experiences of new landscapes and ways of life. I know that my very presence will change a place, and probably for the worse. For each unfrequented place I visit, I know that many others will soon follow and its ‘natural’ life will change and probably degrade.
As a visual artist I feel I have never found a convincing way for my art to expound, as opposed to reflect, my political beliefs. I try to resolve this problem by staying in one place for as long as possible, getting to know the locality through walking and drawing, leaving as small a footprint as possible and hoping that my work will inspire others to value nature.
In 2002 I had a three month residency in Far North Queensland where I first engaged with the rainforest. I was assisting a sculptor who used a chainsaw to carve delicate sculptures from a great variety of fallen native trees. He was someone with a lot of knowledge and passion for the local flora and fauna who later wrote a book on it. While there I made two small sculptures of my own, both related to plants, this carved in jacaranda wood, is ‘Fern Form’
Because of our global lives, people travel and form relationships with others from foreign countries and move temporarily or permanently to other places. So I found myself visiting Colombia on numerous occasions. A couple of times I took the opportunity to visit Calanoa, an artistic and ecological project on the banks of the Amazon. There I made drawings, looked at birds, swam in a black water lake, caught a glimpse of pink dolphins ,visited local villages, and took some walks in the forest learning about its plants and animal.
Drawing is a major part of my art practice. There can never be enough time for it as a way of learning. In 2012, following a broken wrist and David Hockney’s exhibition at the RA, I began drawing on an Ipad. I never took my iPad to the Amazon, as I was worried about weather conditions and there was a basic lack of power points! So my drawings in the Amazon were in pencil or charcoal, and I took some photographs.
It takes time to reflect on experiences and allow them to percolate and influence artistic production. I wanted then as now, to address climate change as directly as possible without falling into polemic.
The first result was a series of Ipad drawings, ‘Ecos de Las Amazonas’ , now recreated as a 3D Virtual Reality Gallery which also includes Live Edge Acrylic sculptures derived from my experiences in Colombia as a whole. The exhibition aims to highlight the beauty of the region and our ambiguous and potentially disastrous relationship to nature.
Taking my cue from David Hockney, I used the Brushes app for my first Ipad drawings. I explored the many interesting interactions possible between traditional and digital media. Photographic images, or images made on paper with pencil or pen and ink, may be scanned, imported and combined in a variety of layered effects on the Ipad.
The images I used came from the original pen and ink or pencil drawings I made on my visits to the Amazon, as well as photographs I took there.
Each layer on the iPad can be treated separately in terms of transparency, colour and relationship to the layers above or below and the final image is made from multiple layers. It is important to me that I also actually draw directly on the Ipad. For reasons I explain below, on my return from the Amazon I decided to draw Orchids. Each final printed image is a composite of layers and is the one I as an artist chose to print from amongst the many possible images developed during the course of the drawing.
Orchids today are one of the most popular houseplants, and my drawings were made from a selection of these exotic plants that originate in the world’s rainforests. The drawings make an explicit juxtaposition between our western world and the world of nature. They restore the delicate intricacy of the orchid from its commercial identity as a ‘houseplant’ back to its fragile jungle origins, the real rainforests and wilderness places they came from, and which, like the layers of drawing on the iPad, are being transformed and disappearing.
The flowers of the rainforest are often brilliantly coloured: red predominates, perhaps to catch the eye of bird and insect pollinators. Splashes of yellow lighten the dark green undergrowth and the jungle birds slip past with a flash of blue, green or red. The sculptural works in this exhibition are all about transparency, light and colour; they are made of red, green, orange and blue fluorescent ‘live edge’ acrylic. Many of them are hanging or wall-mounted works and they draw the eye and hold your attention in a manner analogous to that of the jungle plants.Plants, whether ‘common and garden’ or found only in the depths of the rainforest, have a beauty that arises from structure, colour and adaptation to environment that can be re-created and explored through the imagination and this is what I hope the public will find in my sculpture and Ipad drawings
Printed with archival inks on Hahnmuhle German Etching paper, or other Fine Art inkjet paper, the original limited edition digital prints are available as A3 prints for £150.00. 10% of sales will be donated to Greenpeace. The sculptures are individually priced. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with enquiries or orders.