7:54 PM January 16, 2020
6:41 PM October 11, 2020
Nature creates startling images when seen close-up. A look back at a new exhibition that combines scientific illustration and an artist’s gaze
The old adage “Truth is stranger than fiction” is certainly evident the moment you enter the Art Forms in Nature exhibition at the Ipswich Art Gallery, alongside the Ipswich Museum.
It is an exhibition that blends the science of nature with the artistic expression that the natural world inspires in those who interact with it.
The roots of the exhibition are firmly in the curious and insatiable world of the Victorian scholar who sought to explain and understand a world that was slowly emerging from the veil of biblical myths.
Exhibition curator Emma Roodhouse said it was no coincidence that Ipswich School of Art (now home to Ipswich Gallery) was built as part of the complex of the Ipswich Museum, because in the Victorian era, art and science went hand in hand, seeking to explore a new secular world.
As artists and scientists looked at nature, they not only found beauty, but they also found intricate patterns, made more fascinating by the rich textures that emerged under powerful lenses and microscopes.
After seeing these wonders, the trick now was to find a way to share these images with the world. One of the people who took on this challenge was the pioneering photographer Karl Blossfeldt who, in the early years of the 20th century, had to invent equipment that allowed him to photograph plants and seeds close-up.
The result of his work is a series of stunning, almost abstract plant studies that, through beautiful and subtle lighting, showcase the shapes and forms found in the natural world.
Using a homemade camera and lens that could magnify a subject 30 times, Blossfeldt produced 6,000 photographs over three decades, capturing a previously unseen world of natural artistic magic.
In 1928, he published the first of three groundbreaking portfolios that caused an overnight sensation and propelled Blossfeldt to the top of the scientific illustration tree.
Although his work is clearly art, they were originally used to illustrate scientific texts. The Art Forms in Nature exhibition grew out of a touring exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre, London, which caught Emma’s eye.
“It was such a natural choice because of the origins of the Gallery and the collections held by the museum.”
The Hayward Touring exhibit consists of 40 photogravures from Blossfeldt’s first original edition of the 1932 German portfolio, “Wundergarten der Natur” (Magical Garden of Nature). It was the second in the Artforms in Nature series, edited by Blossfeldt and published the year of his death.
Blossfeldt’s photographs fill the atrium that welcomes gallery visitors and are echoed on the upper-floor balcony by a stunning display by Suffolk-born botanical artist Guy William Eves, bringing an almost architectural majesty to his intricate designs.
For Guy, exhibiting at the Ipswich Art Gallery is like coming home, as he trained here in the 1970s before embarking on a career as a graphic designer before returning to Ipswich in 1987 , creating his own independent design and illustration firm.
Inspired by the botanical illustrations of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Guy began to draw plants and flowers. In 2010 he received a Highly Commended Award at the Society of Botanical Artists Open Show. That same year he had two pieces accepted at the 13th International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustration at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh, USA.
In 2015 he received a Silver Gilt Medal at the RHS London Botanical Art Show for an exhibition The Black and White in Colour.
Looking at his work, it’s easy to see why his work has been so acclaimed, as he manages to capture the sense that his subjects are living growing organisms rather than harvested specimens recorded in a clinical situation.
The highlight of his contribution to the exhibit is the Chestnut Tree, which took over 300 hours to complete, and can be encountered in real life by the Reg Driver Center in Christchurch Park. The characterful work was completed for the show and Guy plans to undertake three more designs, capturing the gnarled and twisted tree in all seasons.
The Art Forms in Nature exhibition is complemented by illustrations drawn from the Ipswich Museum collection, including intricate studies of hoverflies (different species are identified by the veins in their wings) as well as meticulous studies of different forms of mushrooms by accomplished amateur illustrator Leslie Victor. Green.
The exhibition also features a glorious illustration of a barn owl as part of museum trustee John Gould’s giant book, The Birds of Europe. The book, a passion project for the 19th-century Victorian ornithologist, was illustrated by Gould’s wife, Elizabeth, and the artist, musician and poet
Art Forms in Nature runs at the Ipswich Art Gallery, High Street, until 23 February. Free entry.