Steeven Salvat (previously) evokes the glass-covered entomological studies of rare butterflies, beetles, and moths with an additional layer of protection. The French artist armors the singular insects with precious gemstones, silver and gold filigree, and rotational gears. Even elements of luxury watches, like Breguet’s Reine de Naple and an intricate dial from Vacheron Constantin, cloak the critters’ outer shells.
In a note to Colossal, Salvat writes that the growing collection of drawings is an “allegory for the preciosity of biological systems. A way to drive attention to our smallest neighbors on this planet—we need to preserve them because they are worth much more than all the gold and jewels I dressed them with.” Each intricate drawing is rendered with China black ink and watercolor and takes at least 50 hours to complete.
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Working with entomologists around the globe, the French street artist known as Mantra (previously) transforms brick facades and concrete walls into massive studies of local butterfly specimens. With framed outer edges that mimic a wooden box, the trompe l’oeil murals render the winged insects in detail, depicting their richly hued scales and delicate antennae. Each artwork features species native to the area, making it possible that a live specimen might flutter by its enormous counterpart.
In a conversation with Colossal, Mantra said he’s harbored a lifelong fascination with entomology that stems from spending hours in French gardens and bucolic areas as a kid. “As a child, I was interested, curious, and focused on the small life forms in those places,” he says. His current practice hearkens back to those carefree hours and connects with an adolescent desire to become a naturalist. “My approach is as a scientist,” the artist says, noting that education about environmental care and issues is part of the goal.
Although Mantra considers all insects and natural life beautiful and crucial to maintaining biodiversity, the focus on butterflies revolves around his artistic ambitions because the vivid creatures allow him to experiment with color, shape, and texture. Each specimen is rendered freehand before the artist adds detail and the illusory shadows that make them appear three-dimensional. By painting various Lepidoptera species again and again, the artist is “repeating a mantra,” a detail of his practice that informs the moniker he works under.
In recent months, Mantra has traveled to Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden, in addition to various locations throughout France, to complete public artworks, and he’ll be in Arkansas this month for two projects curated by Just Kids. Follow all of the artist’s entomological murals on Instagram.
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Elaborate Fashions and Hairstyles Explore Beauty and Power in Photographer Luke Nugent's Lavish Portraits
London-based photographer Luke Nugent (previously) captures a wide swath of beauty and expression through his powerful images centered on Black models. Often in commanding poses, the subjects sport evocative fashions and elaborately designed makeup. One model is covered in Kintsugi-style cracks and encrusted with glimmering gems, while others wear futuristic garments and lavishly styled hair. The deeply considered photographs are created collaboratively with makeup and hair artists, stylists, and creative directors.
Find more of Nugent’s photography on Instagram and Behance—where you can also see his recent EQUILIBRIUM series that was produced in collaboration with Melissa Simon-Hartmon—and pick up a print in his shop.
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Surrounded by monarchs or a blanket of blue leaves, Fares Micue (previously) captures vividly composed self-portraits. The Spain-based photographer conceals her face and instead focuses on the organic elements surrounding her torso. Whether a series of origami birds or yellow and red twigs resembling flames, the natural additions merge seamlessly with Micue, who bends and contorts her figure to follow the shapely forms of the arranged objects.
In a note to Colossal, the photographer said she’s been more inclined to create since the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, considering her work an invitation into self-reflection. “I am a firm believer that how we think and feel about life is how we will perceive reality. We must train our brain to always search for the bright side and find hope among the desolation,” she says. While people may not have control over global crises, they are not without agency. “I want them to feel powerful and (acknowledge) the power they have over their life experience and how to use that experience to grow and learn,” she writes.
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In 2012, Bristol-based artist Diana Beltrán Herrera (previously) began sculpting impeccably layered paper birds and other wildlife as a way to record her surroundings. Her lifelike pieces continuously have captured nature’s finely detailed and minuscule elements, like the fibrous texture of feathers and the veins running through leaves.
Today, the artist has expanded the practice to include exotic species and environments she’s never seen up close, developing her paper techniques to express the more nuanced details of the shapes and textures she studies in biology books. Now focusing on the structural elements of fungi, fruit, and florals, Beltrán Herrera shares with Colossal:
Paper as a medium for documentation allows me to register and create notions and ideas of subjects that I have not experienced in real life but that I can experience when a sculpture is completed. I like this approach because it is not harmful, and through my work, I can show and tell my viewers about the things I have been learning, of the importance of nature just by researching and making it myself.
Much of her work centers on conservation efforts and environmental justice. For example, a recent commission by Greenpeace UK bolstered the organization’s Plastic Free Rivers campaign. ” I am constantly looking for more subjects that are relevant to the times we are living in, so that through my work I can communicate important information that can educate or just make things more visible. The approach is very (graphic) and visual, which helps to deliver a message,” she says.
Beltrán Herrera’s upcoming projects include a commission for a coral sculpture, in addition to plans to launch a studio with her brother by the end of 2020. Her hope is to merge graphic and digital design with her paper pieces, potentially adding in animation, as well. Ultimately, her goal is to dive into larger projects. “I don’t see my work as something I want to know how to make and stay safe, but as a challenge, that will always allow me to wonder how to execute and create things that were never made with paper,” she says.
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Through a winding series of delicate illustrations, Zoe Keller (previously) explores the fragility of the natural world. In Scale & Bone, the Portland-based illustrator renders copper belly water snakes, San Francisco garters, and eastern diamondback rattlers through sinuous compositions that are ripe with skeletal remains, rows of butterflies, and dense patches of fungi. Each graphite drawing examines the tension between life and death and how nature’s processes are cyclical, including the shedding and regeneration of tube-like layers of skin.
Keller’s work considers the beauty of the limbless reptiles in an effort to subvert cultural notions. “Snakes, in particular, fascinate me as a subject matter because they elicit such a strong response in so many people,” she shares with Colossal. Scale & Bone is part of a larger effort to visualize the destruction of ecosystems and widespread loss of biodiversity. “Through the use of visual narratives that are interjected with surreal and magical elements, I hope to allow the species in my drawings to speak with urgency to the forces causing their decline in this time of human-driven mass extinction,” she writes.
Many of Keller’s projects fall at the intersection of art and environmental activism, offering
“opportunities to collaborate directly with scientists working on the ground to protect imperiled species.” The illustrator recently worked with Save the Snakes, an organization that steers conservation efforts and attempts to reduce harm by humans. Her serpent-focused poster will be unveiled this summer in time for World Snake Day.
Scale & Bone currently is on view at Antler Gallery, which is offering a virtual tour on its site. Follow Keller on Instagram for updates on her intertwined illustrations, and check her shop for prints, postcards, and stickers.
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.