BARK and LAVA

Hercules Seghers (Netherlands 16th)  is one of my favourite artists. Only about ten of his works on paper still exist and some can be viewed in the British museum prints and drawings room by appointment.

His etchings are beautiful and incredibly experimental for their time. The landscapes are strangely unplacable, although supposed to be set in the Netherlands they appear more like alien landscapes.

I began to wonder how Seghers may have made the works. Having previously studied the paintings of Joachim Patiner who was rumored to draw the mountain forms in the landscapes from rocks.

When looking closely at Seghers landscapes I began to wonder if he may have also drawn the forms in his landscapes from a rock or other organic form. I looked at the marks, the shapes and the lines and realized they reminded me of the forms in bark. This seemed an interesting idea to investigate and I decided to re-work some of his landscape compositions through drawing bark forms from life in the place of the cliffs and jagged landscape he had drawn. I cut some copper plates to the exact size of his works and began researching where I could find relevant pieces of bark to draw from.

Kew gardens have the best bark collection in London and I became full of curiosity as to what a bark collection would be like. I emailed the herbarium at Kew and arranged an appointment for the following week.

At 10am on the 14th July I was escorted by a Botanist to the bark anatomists lab in The Joseph Banks building at Kew. Although we found the tree anatomist was not in his lab, we looked at a few slides of bark, that stained red looked a lot like human anatomy slides and this planted other seeds in my imagination. Brian told me where I probably really wanted to go was to the bark collection in the Joseph banks building and meet the curator mark Nesbit, we walked over and although he was not there we met Chris Who is in charge of the Chinese medicinal plants and collections at Kew.

Chris had a few boxes of interesting bark sitting in her office. I almost immediately found a few pieces of bark that I felt would work and set them out at the desk. Up until this point I was still really unsure as to whether I was just on a bit of a whimsical fancy thinking this might work, as much as I believed it would. So I was really happy when I started drawing and found that the bark was mimicking the landscapes forms enough for me to assure myself (if no-one else) that Seghers could have drawn his landscapes from bark.

I left with the email of mark Nesbit the curator of bark and looked forward to accessing the bark store to continue drawing Seghers landscapes in this way. mark was on holiday at the time and it took a few weeks to get a response, in the meantime I had become curious about the forms in Seghers landscapes and the forms in lava after my recent trip to the Galapagos islands where I had drawn numerous broken bits of lava as rocky landscapes.

I contacted the curator of the rock room at UCL and asked her if I could draw some lava, while I waited to get into the bark collection n at Kew. I was offered me the opportunity to loan some specimens of lava that I could take to my studio. I went to pick up the specimens form the rock room and carted them in numerous boxes on a trolley through the tubes on the underground, delighted with the knowledge that I was couriering lava through underground tunnels which somehow felt really appropriate!

I found a mixture of lava and bark worked really nicely and kept the drawing process really interesting so I got on with this. By now the curator of the bark collection at Kew had emailed me and given permission for me to draw form their bark collection.

The bark store was very cold and full of high metal cabinets full of bark and artefacts made from bark. After perusing a few isles I had my eye on some seeds that looked like space aliens and was overwhelmed by the variety of barks of all shapes and sizes. I was left alone to choose some specimens to draw which I did with great pleasure marking the catalogue numbers on sheets of paper and carefully handling each specimen into archive boxes.

Before I left to draw what I had collected mark took some time to show me some of the unusual artefacts in the store, some Japanese decorative sheets of bark that looked just like leather, used instead of leather in most instances tying in with Buddhist philosophy and some paintings of seeds and flowers painted on the wood of the tree they grew from, both a scientific specimen and a work of art, which really resonated with me.

The curator of bark at Kew introduced me to an archaeology research student which lead to arranging  a meeting with Ulrike Sommer at UCL to talk about drawing and archaeology in current educational practise.

LICHEN

I found this map by G.M Wheeler and immediately thought of Lichen. I have always been interested in the anatomical relationships between the ramifying forms of the landscape- when observed from above and those of plant and animal forms.

I asked Mark Nesbitt where I could find Lichen in london, and unsurprisingly got a reply “Lichen is difficult to find in London, because the air quality is very poor”. He advised me to try Epping forest (east london).

I went to epping forest and entered the wood land, searching trees for the kind of lichen specimen I was after-

The etching above is drawn from pieces of lichen I found in Epping forest, drawn in the same composition as Wheelers map. The etching is hand painted with japanese inks.

Here is a short interview with a botanist at Kew Gardens

G.A- Do students still draw plants as part of their education?

Kew- Yes, drawing diagrams is definitely often the best way to understand structures that are characteristic†of particular plant families or species.† Experts also†use drawings to help them record details in their notes.

G.A- How has taxonomy changed in relation to plants? Are plants still classified according to shape or are they now classified according to their DNA/Phylogenetics?

Kew- Most of the major changes to our†understanding of the way in which plants†are related†are based on molecular evidence†i.e. DNA characters, but,†the day-to-day practical†job of identification and working out what is what is based on morphology (shape, appearance).

G.A- Considering new species of plants are still being discovered, do you think new species should still be observed and drawn, as previous new species have been, in order to keep a consistent history of taxonomy based on shape?

Kew- Yes, new species†should definitely be illustrated when they are described.† Not for consistency with the past, but because a botanical†illustration is the best way to†make accessible a written description and a plant specimen.†

G.A- Do students spend more time looking through microscopes and at digital images or observing and drawing the plant specimen?

Kew- Not sure about this one, I would argue that herbarium taxonomy hasn’t really changed in its†methods and looking at the actual specimens using hand lenses and dissecting microscopes is still key.† Digital images are easier to get hold of but you can’t really see features in enough detail – they are better than nothing if access to the actual specimen is not possible. The specimen still rules!

G.A-    The last Botany B.A course recently closed at Reading- Can you tell me how the subject has evolved into Ethno-Botany?

Kew- Although there is no longer a botany degree,†in many biology courses you can still specialize on plants. Ethno Botany has always been part of†botany, as well as being a stand alone subject.† If anything it was plant uses that drove the study of botany in the first place, when medicine was based on plants.†

 

Advertisements