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Art Documentary

A Visit to Wangechi Mutu's Nairobi Studio Explores Her Profound Ties to Nature and the Feminine

July 23, 2021

Grace Ebert

Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu made history in 2019 when her four bronze sculptures became the first ever to occupy the niches of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s facade. Stretching nearly seven feet, the seated quartet evokes images of heavily adorned African queens and intervenes in the otherwise homogenous canons of art history held within the institution’s walls.

The monumental figures are one facet of Mutu’s nuanced body of work that broadly challenges colonialist, racist, and sexist ideologies. Now on view at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor is the latest iteration of the artist’s subversive projects: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?  disperses imposing hybrid creatures in bronze and towering sculptures made of soil, branches, charcoal, cowrie shells, and other organic materials throughout the neoclassical galleries. The figurative works draw a direct connection between the Black female body and ecological devastation as they reject the long-held ideals elevated in the space.

 

No matter the medium, these associations reflect Mutu’s deep respect for and fascination with the ties between nature, the feminine, and African history and culture, a guiding framework that the team at Art21 explores in a recently released documentary. Wangechi Mutu: Between the Earth and the Sky visits the artist’s studio in her hometown of Nairobi and dives into the evolution of her artwork from the smaller collaged paintings that centered her early practice as a university student in New York to her current multi-media projects that have grown in both scope and scale.

Whether a watercolor painting with photographic scraps or one of her mirror-faced figures encircled with fringe, Mutu’s works are founded in an insistence on the value of all life and the ways the earth’s history functions as a source of knowledge, which she explains:

I truly believe that there’s something about taking these bits and pieces of trees, and animals and completely anonymous but extremely identifiable items and placing them somewhere that draws their energy, wherever they were coming from, whatever they did, whatever molten lava they came out of a million years ago, that is now in my work and that little piece of energy is magnified.

Dive further into Mutu’s practice by watching the full documentary above, and see a decades-long archive of her paintings, sculptures, collages, and other works on Artsy and Instagram.

 

 

 



Art Design

Translucent Textiles Cast Organisms and Mundane Objects as Dreamy Sculptures and Wearables

July 9, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Mariko Kusumoto, shared with permission

From polyester, nylon, and cotton, Japanese artist and designer Mariko Kusumoto fabricates sculptural forms that resemble the creatures and everyday objects she finds most fascinating. She uses a proprietary heat-setting technique to mold the ubiquitous materials into undulating ripples, honeycomb poufs, and even tiny schools of fish that are presented in elegant and fanciful contexts. Whether a pastel coral reef or a fantastical bracelet filled with mushrooms, rosettes, and minuscule bicycles, Kusumoto’s body of work, which includes standalone objects and wearables, uses the ethereal qualities of the translucent fibers to make even the banalest forms appear like they’re part of a dream.

You can find a larger archive of the artist’s pieces, which ranges from textiles to metal and resin, on her site and Instagram.

 

 

 



Craft

Embroidered Landscapes Capture the Stillness of Pastoral Life through Dense Knots and Stitches

July 9, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Katrin Vates, shared with permission

French knots, chain stitches, and straight lines become peaceful countrysides and abandoned shacks overrun by moss and vines in Katrin Vates’s embroideries. Using bleached canvas as a base, Vates works with thread in natural color palettes of greens or autumnal hues that she lays in variable lengths and thicknesses: she conveys a glistening ocean through flat, even stitches in blues and white, while tufts of neutral tones become cropped fields and dried bushes. Vates rarely sketches a preliminary design and never attaches a hoop, which allows more freedom to adjust both the image and the ways weather and sunlight impact the scenes.

The Rockville, Maryland-based artist plans to release some of her pieces on Etsy in the coming months, and you can follow that launch, in addition to her forays into three-dimensional embroideries, on Instagram. (via Kottke)

 

 

 



Photography

Macro Photos Spotlight the Colorful, Whimsical Plant Growths Caused by Cynipid Wasps

June 30, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Timothy Boomer, shared with permission

When an herbivorous insect like an aphid or mite needs a place to feed and reproduce, it sometimes seizes a tiny section of a plant where it establishes an abnormal growth or gall. These tissue pockets, which are spurred by a reaction in the host, provide shelter and nutrition for the creature, and although some can be unsightly blemishes, others, like these brightly colored growths of cynipid wasps, are bizarrely beautiful additions to the otherwise green leaves. Photographed by Timothy Boomer, the macro images capture the imperceptible details of the galls, which appear like fairytale-style mushroom houses, prickly sea urchins, and fuzzy, striped domes. See more of the whimsical growths, which generally only cause cosmetic damage to the host plant, on Instagram and Boomer’s site, where you can also purchase prints.

 

 

 



Art Craft

Delicate Cross-Cut Pods Encase Seeds and Other Fruitful Forms in Porcelain

June 30, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Sally Kent and photographer Matthew Stanton, shared with permission

Melbourne-based artist Sally Kent visualizes the fleeting processes found in nature in her fragile porcelain pods. Cross-cut to reveal an inner seed, flower, or other fruitful organisms, the ceramic works compare the inner life-producing forms that are teeming with color and texture with their stark, smooth shells.

Each piece, which ranges from just a few inches to about a foot, is composed of individual patterns, whether through minuscule orbs or with thin strips of ceramic hung from the outer edges. This use of repetition is a form of embodiment, Kent says, because it evokes the cycles that produce and sustain all life, no matter the species or age. “Each pod begins with an egg form—an archetypal symbol of the cycle of life, death, and renewal, but it also acts as a shell to delineate and protect, albeit fragile, the seen (physical body) and the unseen (the spiritual and emotional world),” she shares.

If you’re in Sydney, you can see Kent’s Protection series, which includes human hands and busts embellished with mythological details, during the first weekend of August at House of Chu. Until then, dive into her process and see more of her hand-built works on Instagram.

 

 

 



Animation

A Delightful Animation Chronicles a Peaceful Spring Hike through a Camera's Viewfinder

June 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

Viewfinder” is a charming animation about exploring the outdoors from the Seoul-based studio VCRWORKS. The second episode in the recently launched Rhythmens series, the peaceful short follows a central character on a hike in a springtime forest and frames their whimsically rendered finds through the lens of a camera. Watch the first episode, which goes on a similarly calming snowy adventure, on VCRWORKS’ Vimeo. (via The Morning News)

 

 

 

 

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