Haystacks in the snow

December 21st, 2014
Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun), 1891, by Claude Monet

Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun), 1891, by Claude Monet

In 1891, an exhibit by Claude Monet in the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris included a series of 15 haystacks. It was unusual at the time for an artist to exhibit so many paintings of the same subject at once, and it was a conscious effort by Monet to make viewers focus on what he was most interested in, the variations of light and color in nature.

In honor of the first day of winter, here are some of the winter haystack paintings. Many painters of the time would sketch outdoors and create the final painting in the comfort of their studio, but not Monet. He would set up his big canvas and paints outside in all seasons, even the freezing cold. Talk about becoming one with nature!

Over his career he made at least 140 winter paintings outside, which is a level of dedication that I think few artists today could match. These tiny reproductions cannot replicate the beauty of the originals, but you can click on each image to see a larger version of the painting. You can learn more about Monet’s haystack series here.

Grainstacks, Snow Effect, 1891, by Claude Monet

Grainstacks, Snow Effect, 1891, by Claude Monet

Haystack, Morning Snow Effect, 1891, by Claude Monet

Haystack, Morning Snow Effect, 1891, by Claude Monet

Stack of Wheat (Snow Effect, Overcast Day), 1891, by Claude Monet

Stack of Wheat (Snow Effect, Overcast Day), 1891, by Claude Monet

Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning, 1891, by Claude Monet

Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning, 1891, by Claude Monet

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The Diatomist – microscopic artwork created from nature

December 12th, 2014

Sometimes the beauty of nature is so small, you need a microscope to see it.

Diatoms are single-cell algae, encased in glass shells, invisible to the human eye without a microscope. During the 19th Century, diatomists would make intricate arrangements of these tiny objects, creating beautiful designs.

Today there is one living practitioner of this microscopic art form, Klaus Kemp, the subject of a new documentary short by Matthew Killip. Klaus developed his own techniques for arranging these tiny works of art, because the original practitioners never passed down their secret techniques.

Below are some of Klaus Kemp’s designs. You can learn more about Klaus and diatoms in this interview with the filmmaker at the Smithsonian website. For more scientific reading on diatoms, visit the Identification Guide and Ecological Resource for Diatoms of the United States.

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Diatom by Klaus Kemp

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

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Creating your own natural world

November 14th, 2014

Toca nature

I like to cover a wide variety of art forms on this blog, including electronic arts. Computer games have come a long way in the last twenty years, and now cover a wide variety of themes and subject matter, including nature.

Swedish game developer Toca Boca is known for creative and immersive games that foster open play. Their latest app is called Toca Nature, and it lets the user create their own virtual world of mountains, trees, plants, and animals. I tried it out for the first time today, and found it an engaging experience.

The graphics are simple and stylized, but the 3D environment allows for real-time exploration of your world. Much of the fun comes from flying over the hills and valleys you created, watching rabbits, bears and other creatures eat, sleep, and explore. You can also collect food to feed the animals and watch them grow. There is a camera to take snapshots as you explore.

Toca Nature

Toca Nature

The animation can be a bit awkward at times, with animals not always walking solidly on the ground, often passing right through trees and plants. And I found myself wishing for a little more to do in my newly-constructed world.

Still, as an immersive environment that lets children play with nature in a different way, it’s a fun and appealing experience. And if it makes kids want to go out and look for a real fox in the wild, so much the better.

 

The Groundskeeper’s Daughter – ethereal music from the garden

October 10th, 2014

The Groundskeeper's Daughter, by Dolls Come to LifeNature has inspired music throughout history, from Vivaldi to modern-day art installations. The duo Dolls Come to Life explore the theme of a garden on their new album The Groundskeeper’s Daughter, a series of experimental songs and soundscapes. The results are haunting, evocative, and eerily beautiful.

Dolls Come To Life are singer/songwriter Michelle Cross and experimental musician Joe Frawley. Their first album Dolls Come To Life was inspired by interior spaces — a child’s bedroom, attic, etc. Their new album is inspired by the outdoors, particularly the old fashioned gardens of Victorian literature. But these are not cheerful songs of sunshine and flowers, they evoke misty moors, haunted walls, and creeping vines. There’s an eerie thread of melancholy that runs through these tracks, as though the ghost of Mary Lennox has come back to roam the forgotten paths of her secret garden.

The track “Across the Moor”, as Joe Frawley explains, “was the result of a multi-tracked improvisation Michelle did over a drone I provided.” Much of their music evolves this way, improvising over each other’s tracks to see what comes out. The duo works long-distance, exchanging files over the internet, but their sounds blend seamlessly.

The song “Wake Up, Wake Up” features a chorus of flowers singing of their life through the seasons, while a girl sits on the ivy wall listening:

Come if you want, follow us down into the ground,
into the brown earth where we all are listening.
And when the wind comes whispering that it is spring then we begin,
making our way up shivering.

One can imagine the title character, the groundskeeper’s daughter, exploring this strange world and discovering its hidden corners. More than a collection of songs, this album creates a sonic world in the imagination, and listeners can create their own stories inspired by it.

You can sample the whole album here on their website.

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Strength in nature – the art of Natasha Newton

July 16th, 2014
The Pattern of the Earth 4, © by Natasha Newton

The Pattern of the Earth 4, © by Natasha Newton

Natasha Newton is an artist and illustrator from Suffolk, England, whose work is inspired by the natural world. Birds, trees, stars and mountains all feature prominently in her work, which highlights the elegant patterns and shapes found in nature. There is a strength and beauty to these primal shapes, as they peel back the surface to reveal the essence of the world around us.

Besides her watercolors and acrylic paintings on canvas, she also does beautiful paintings on stones, which seem the perfect fusion of art and nature.  She has also created many abstract works inspired by nature.

Rainstorm © by Natasha Newton

Rainstorm © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Her blog is a window into her process and her struggles, and she writes with openness and honesty about her life and work. I was particularly inspired by her post about being brave enough to do your own thing. She writes how it’s tempting to do art that is safe, rather than what you really want to do:

“If you set out with the goal of painting something just because you think it will be popular, you’ll probably find the opposite will happen. But if you make unique work that comes from the heart, there will be someone else out there who loves it as much as you do. At the very least, your authenticity will shine through. And as an artist, that’s probably more important than anything.”

Her abstract art, sold in her Minimal Nature shop, is one example of how she experiments to keep her creativity flowing. She also draws inspiration from her own life. Her recent series of paintings “Birds of Hope” and “Birds of Strength” came out of an ongoing personal crisis that she has written about on her blog, and she created them as a visual reminder to stay hopeful and strong.

You can learn more about Natasha Newton and find links to all her artwork at her website.

Bird of Strength 1

Bird of Strength 1 © by Natasha Newton

 

Magic Sea 1 © by Natasha Newton

Magic Sea 1 © by Natasha Newton

 

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

 

Mountain Over the Moon © by Natasha Newton

Moon Over The Mountains © by Natasha Newton

 

We're Almost Home © by Natasha Newton

We’re Almost Home © by Natasha Newton

 

Bird of Hope 3 © by Natasha Newton

Bird of Hope 3 © by Natasha Newton

 

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Stop-motion on the other side of the woods

June 26th, 2014

On The Other Side Of The Woods by Anu-Laura Tuttelberg

Anu-Laura Tuttelberg is an animator from Estonia who works in stop-motion, a medium that is all the more compelling in this digital world of computer animation. Her latest film, being released this year, is called On The Other Side Of The Woods, and it uses imagery from nature that is stark and compelling.

As she describes the story, “a clay doll awakens her surroundings that become a surreal world in constant flow of change.” What I find so unique about this film, as seen in the trailer below, is the use of real elements from nature — plants, dirt, water — animated in ways that are both eerie and strangely comforting. Also wonderful is the use of natural light, which flows over the scene in unpredictable ways that make the whole environment seem alive. The viewer discovers this strange yet familiar world even as the character does.

The film is being released in festivals this year. Her first animated film was called Fly Mill (“Kärbeste veski”) which was her graduation film at Estonian Academy of Arts in 2013. You can see more of her work at her website.

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Teisel pool metsa / On the Other Side of the Woods TRAILER from Anu-Laura Tuttelberg on Vimeo.

 

On The Other Side Of The Woods by Anu-Laura Tuttelberg

 

On_the_other_side_of_the_woods_02a

 

On The Other Side Of The Woods by Anu-Laura Tuttelberg

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Inspired by orchids – Bianca Ana Chavez

June 20th, 2014

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Here at The Untended Garden, we feature works both old and new, but this summer I’ll be highlighting contemporary artists who explore nature in their work.

Bianca Ana Chavez is a painter from California who has been inspired by nature all her life. She is currently living in Chiapas, a tropical region in the southernmost part of Mexico that is rich in biodiversity. The area boasts over 700 species of orchids, many of which are in danger from deforestation and poaching.

Working in a local plant shop, Bianca would draw the orchids and plants in her free time, and ended up painting an orchid mural around the outside of the store. She became inspired to study botanical art, and moved to Seattle to pursue a certificate in Natural Science Illustration. Studying at the University of Washington, she traipsed through the woods drawing moss and cicadas, and learning more about the small wonders of nature.

Returning to Mexico, she helped convert the plant shop into an art space inspired by nature, where visitors could draw, take workshops, and hear concerts surrounded by the beautiful flora. The name of the shop is Orchideafilia, which translates to “a love for orchids.”

Below (and above), you can see the mural in progress outside Orchideafilia.

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

A student taking one of her workshops at the art space:

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

More artwork by Bianca Ana Chavez:

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

You can see more of Bianca’s artwork at her website.

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Happy Earth Day – poetry and plants

April 22nd, 2014

Spring Crocuses

Earth Day is a time when we celebrate and honor nature, in all its wild untamed beauty. We also search for ways to understand and appreciate nature, and one such way is poetry.

I have featured nature poetry on this website before, by the likes of Keats, Herrick, and of course Emily Dickinson. Recently I came across a wonderful article about the uses of Plants in Poetry, by Kelly Brenner of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. She demonstrates plants as symbolism in Shakespeare, plants as lessons and morals in Shel Silverstein, and plants as an appreciation of nature in the work of Dickinson.

It appears the poetic power of plants is timeless, as these works are just as potent today as when they were written. Perhaps they are even more powerful, as we seem to have grown distant as a species from the friendly flora around us. Plants are potted and mulched into neat corners of society, making our unconscious yearning for the natural world all the more powerful.

Luckily we have the poets to help bring us back, and remind us of our deep bond with the natural world. Nature poems are not always happy ones, which just goes to show how well nature reflects our inner selves.

One of the poems featured in the article above is The Withering Of The Boughs by William Butler Yeats. I’ll leave you with an excerpt, you can read the entire poem at the original post.

I cried when the moon was murmuring to the birds:
‘Let peewit call and curlew cry where they will,
I long for your merry and tender and pitiful words,
For the roads are unending, and there is no place to my mind.’
The honey-pale moon lay low on the sleepy hill,
And I fell asleep upon lonely Echtge of streams.

No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind;
The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.

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Zebra finches rock the house

March 27th, 2014

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Springtime is often heralded by the music of birds, but not usually playing electric guitars.

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, has an exhibit through April 13th called from here to ear, that brings art and nature together quite literally. French artist and musician Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has created an environmental soundscape in which 70 zebra finches interact with electric guitars set up throughout the room. Visitors walk through the big open space and become part of the ever-changing environment.

Here is a peek behind the scenes at this fascinating exhibit:

The point is not only to create evocative musical sounds, but to make the visitor think about the ways in which we perceive sound, how we interact with nature, and how nature reacts to our own fabricated world. Below is an interview with the artist, who has made creative sound exhibits all over the world.

The exhibit requires tickets on weekends (which are sold out) but not on weekdays. More information at the Peabody Essex Museum website.

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The long cold winter

March 6th, 2014

“Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

It’s been a long winter. Cold, snowy, windy, the kind of bone-chilling weather that makes you want to hibernate.

Many artists have painted snowy landscapes through the years, but few measure up to the classic “Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Bruegel was a Renaissance painter from the Netherlands, who lived between 1525 and 1569. This magnificent painting is 63 inches wide (160 cm), and manages to portray an entire village in all its lively frozen detail. This is one town that did not hibernate.

You can see this painting even closer with the Google Art Project, where you can zoom in really close on the detail. Here’s the link. The site has hundreds of other paintings that you can view up close, it’s an amazing virtual museum.

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while, but now that spring is on the horizon, I plan to get back into the swing of things. I’ve got some great posts planned for the coming weeks, so check back again soon!

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