Last chance to see scientific wonders as works of art at Ipswich Art Gallery
PUBLISHED: 19:54 16 January 2020
Nature creates some startling images when viewed in close up. We take a look at a new exhibition which marries scientific illustration with an artist's eye
The old adage "Truth is stranger than fiction" is certainly apparent the moment you step into the Art Forms in Nature exhibition at the Ipswich Art Gallery, alongside Ipswich Museum.
It's an exhibition which blends the science of nature with artistic self-expression which the natural world inspires in those who interact with it.
The roots of the exhibition are firmly embedded in the inquisitive and insatiably curious 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 that it was no coincidence that the Ipswich Art School (now home to the Ipswich Gallery) was built as part of the Ipswich Museum complex because in the Victorian era art and science went hand-in-hand together, seeking to explore a new secular world.
As artists and scientists looked at nature they not only found beauty but they also found complex patterns, made more mesmerising by the rich textures that emerged under powerful lenses and microscopes.
Having seen these wonders, the trick was now to somehow find a way of sharing these images with the world at large. One of the people who took up this challenge was pioneering photographer Karl Blossfeldt who, in the early years of the 20th century, was having to invent equipment to enable him to photograph plants and seeds in close-up forensic detail.
The result of his work is a series of stunning, almost abstract, plant studies that, through beautiful, subtle lighting, emphasise the shapes and forms to be found in the natural world.
Using a homemade camera and lens that could magnify a subject by 30 times, Blossfeldt produced 6,000 photographs over three decades, capturing a hitherto unseen world of natural artistic magic.
In 1928, he published the first of three ground-breaking portfolios which became an overnight sensation and catapulted Blossfeldt to the top of the tree of scientific illustration.
Although, his work is clearly art, they were originally taken to illustrate scientific texts. The Art Forms in Nature exhibition grew out of a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London, which attracted Emma's eye.
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"It was such a natural fit because of the origins of the Gallery and the collections held by the museum."
The Hayward Touring exhibition consists of 40 photogravures from Blossfeldt's original first edition 1932 German portfolio, 'Wundergarten der Natur' (Magic Garden of Nature). This was the second in the Artforms in Nature series, was edited by Blossfeldt and published in the year of his death.
Blossfeldt's photographs fill the atrium which greet visitors to the gallery and are echoed on the balcony of the floor above by a stunning exhibition by Suffolk-born botanical artist Guy William Eves who brings an almost architectural majesty to his intricate drawings.
For Guy, exhibiting at the Ipswich Art Gallery is just like coming home, as he trained here in the 1970s before heading off for a career in graphic design before returning to Ipswich in 1987, setting up his own freelance design and illustration practice.
Inspired by seeing Pierre-Joseph Redouté's botanical illustrations Guy went on to start drawing 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 into the 13th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration at The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh, USA.
In 2015 he was awarded a Silver Gilt Medal in the RHS London Botanical Art Show for an exhibit of The Black and White in Colour.
Looking at his work it is easy to see why his work has been so acclaimed because he manages to capture the feeling that his subjects are living, growing organisms rather than harvested specimens being recorded in a clinical situation.
The highlight of his contribution to the exhibition is the Chestnut Tree, which took more than 300 hours to complete, and can be encountered in real life by the Reg Driver Centre in Christchurch Park. The work, full of character, was completed for the show and Guy is considering undertaking three other drawings, capturing the gnarled, twisted tree in all the seasons.
The Art Forms in Nature exhibition is further complemented with illustrations taken from the Ipswich Museum collection including intricate studies of hover flies (different species are identified by the veins in their wings) along with meticulous studies of different forms of fungi 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-sized 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 is running at Ipswich Art Gallery, High Street, until February 23. Admission is free.