Autumn artwork by Kristina Swarner

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Autumn is fast disappearing, as the few remaining leaves manage to cling to the trees. It is a season of transition, all the more precious because of its fleeting nature. Here are some beautiful fall images by artist Kristina Swarner that perfectly evoke the feeling of autumn, when leaves are turning, seeds are scattering, and birds are flying south.

Kristina is the illustrator of several children’s books, and her lyrical work is very much inspired by nature. You can see more of her work at her website.

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Images © by Kristina Swarner

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It’s not that easy being green

In honor of Sesame Street’s 40th anniversary, I present one of the best “green” songs ever, performed by the one and only Kermit the Frog. Written by Joe Raposo, the song is deceptively simple but contains a powerful message about accepting who you are, with poetic references to nature (as befits a frog).

This video is from the very first season of Sesame Street, and is even more poignant with the passing of Jim Henson, who left this world too soon. I’m sure he would have loved this 40th anniversary celebration, and I’m sure he would be gratified to know that his amazing work lives on.

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The nature drawings of Andrew Millner

40º 53' 54.5"N, 73º 54' 45.3"W (Wavehill Dogwood)
40º 53' 54.5"N, 73º 54' 45.3"W (Wavehill Dogwood)

Andrew Millner is an artist who creates digital images of plants and trees, exploring the natural world and the way we see it. His method is to take photographs from many angles and trace contour drawings on a computer tablet. The resulting images are amazingly detailed and very unique. Here is an excerpt from his own artist statement:

What is “nature?”  What is “natural?”  These questions are increasingly difficult to answer as the borders of the natural and artificial continue to blur.  As the sphere of human influence grows larger, questions about our relationship to the “natural” and our place in it prove ever more pressing.

The digital medium describes all things equally; the near and the far, the large and the small, without the prejudice inherent in our familiar acts of looking. The idiosyncrasies of my hand trace over photographs taken from multiple points of view. Through the process of zooming in and out, the drawings capture information outside the experience of the human eye or camera. The closer one gets to these works, the more one can see.  It is a pure act of drawing, evoking a mental map of the natural world.

For his gallery shows, Millner prints out his works on a huge scale, allowing the viewer to explore them in all their scope and detail. The monochromatic palette focuses attention on the patterns and forms, and lets us marvel at the maze of branches and leaves. The relationship between the digital and natural world is a something we have only begun to grapple with as a society, and these works are a beautiful example of how art can help us move towards a better understanding of our world.

Andrew Millner’s work is on display through October 28th at the Miller Block Gallery in Boston.  I also encourage you to visit his website where you can see close-up/interactive views of his drawings.

38º 39' 16.66"N, 90º 18' 43.6"W (Red Bud)
38º 39' 16.66"N, 90º 18' 43.6"W (Red Bud)
38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.9"W (dogwood)
38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.9"W (dogwood)
Cribbed Cacti 2
Cribbed Cacti 2
38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.4"W (brwn/white cherry)
38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.4"W (brwn/white cherry)

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An Ode to Autumn, by Keats

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The seasons have inspired poetry in every century, and for good reason. Today I thought I’d share one of the more famous seasonal poems by John Keats (who is also the subject of a new feature film by Jane Campion.)

Keats was an English poet who was born in 1795 and died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. His poetry was not well received by critics during his short life, and he died before winning the praise he deserved. Keats requested that the following words be put on his tombstone, in lieu of his name: “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.” Keats may have felt that his own life was not worth remembering, but he needn’t have worried — his work will live on forever. You can read more about Keats and his works here.

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To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
        For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
    Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
    Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
    Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
        Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
    Steady thy laden head across a brook;
    Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
        Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring?  Ay, where are they?
    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
    And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
        Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
    Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
    The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
        And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

— John Keats, 1819

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The Old Mill – a study in nature

Walt Disney’s animated short film The Old Mill won an Academy Award in 1938, and it is remarkable not only because it’s a beautiful film, and pioneered the multi-plane camera, but also for how it depicts nature.

The mill itself is merely the backdrop for the story. The main characters are the animals — in the opening minutes we see creatures who live outside the mill (a spider, ducks, cattle, frogs, crickets) and those who live inside the mill (a pair of nesting bluebirds, doves, mice, bats, and a wide-eyed owl.) All are living peacefully until a storm sets in, and everyone ducks for cover.

The mill is forced to battle the elements, and it nearly topples over — but somehow all becomes right in the end, and nature’s balance is restored. We get the sense that the abandoned mill, built by human hands, is not long for this world and won’t survive too many more storms. But the birds, the mice, the owl — the creatures of nature will somehow always pull through, if left to their own devices. If only we would let them.

The Paper Collage of Mary Delany

Paper Collage by Mary Delany
"Pancratium Maritinum" by Mary Delany

Mary Delany was one amazing woman. She lived in England during the 1700s, and in the course of her 88 years she was a gardener, painter, naturalist, art collector, and friend to the likes of Jonathan Swift and George Frederick Handel. At the age of 72 she took up a new art form – paper collage. The image above is made entirely of cut paper.

Mary Delany
Mary Delany

She crafted nearly a thousand of these beautiful collages in the final years of her life, all depicting real plants and flowers. They say she carried paper and scissors wherever she went.

Mary Delany is the subject of a new exhibit entitled “Mary Delany and Her Circle” on view at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven through January 3, 2010. For anyone who thinks it’s too late in life to try something new, she is quite an inspiration.

Here is a link to a more detailed review of the exhibit at the New York Times blog.

Art and Nature

monet_photo2Welcome to my new blog! Here I will be discussing and celebrating the many ways that artists explore nature, focusing on fine art, books, films, and other media.

We live in a rapidly changing world full of paradox. As technology bridges distances and allows us to see and experience things we never could before, the natural world is changing and disappearing before our very eyes. Just as we are learning more about our world, we are also becoming more distant from it.

Artist and writers have always been inspired by the world around them. I hope that by calling attention to their works, I will inspire readers of this blog to seek and discover their own marvelous ways of seeing and appreciating the world around them.

For this first posting, I present some of the earliest surviving images inspired by nature, painted on cave walls over 15,000 years ago. In today’s age of disposable media, will we ever create anything as lasting as these?

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More information about the Cave of Lascaux here: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/lascaux/en/

I look forward to sharing more thoughts on the nature of art in future posts. Let me know if you have thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear from you!