Chances are, if you are reading this blog, it’s because you have a profound appreciation and respect for nature. Everyone’s favorite Jeopardy host, the late Alex Trebek once said, “if you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, something’s wrong with you.”
It’s in our biology to marvel at our surroundings, and since the dawn of humanity, people have used art to express our relationship to our environment. At times, we create art to convey information about new things we have learned or encountered (how big was that mammoth- put a picture on the cave wall!). Other times, art is used to communicate the emotional response to nature’s grandiosity, when words are not sufficient (think the Hudson River School and the Sublime movement of the early 1800’s- vast landscapes meant to make the viewer feel overwhelmed by the wilderness and it’s immensity).
View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow by Thomas Cole
As trends in art evolve, one thing is constant: nature remains the artist’s greatest muse. In the exhibition, NATURE: In and Out of Focus, on view now in the Frank Juliano Gallery of our historic Wisner House, artists Tracey Luckner and Leonard McDonald each explore their appreciation for the natural world, using vastly different approaches.
Leonard McDonald, a New Jersey-based photographer, began documenting the world of insects and pollinators in his own backyard during the beginning of Covid-lockdowns. He called the resulting series “Backyard Wonders”. While many of us were feeling isolation within the walls of our home, Leonard found refuge in the discovery of tiny worlds often overlooked by the naked eye. The outcome of this exploration and discovery is something to behold.
When was the last time you were able to stand face to face with bee, whose eyes were nearly the size of your own head? Leonard’s work makes the viewer feel as though they were shrunken down to the scale of these creatures and invites us to take a closer look at what goes unnoticed in our explorations of the great outdoors. In his photograph, “Emerald Cuckoo”, a wasp that may have been swatted away, begs for the same attention as a precious gemstone. The viewer can clearly see the bold iridescence and patterning of divots of its exoskeleton. In looking at this body of works, one might consider the evolutionary biology that led to the colors and intricate patterns of each unique species.
Emerald Cuckoo by Leonard McDonald
In contrast, Tracey Luckner records her relationship to something less tangible: the feelings one gets when immersing oneself in the beauty of a garden. She does this through a combination of painting, mixed media and collage. As a Summit resident, many of her works feature scenes from local settings, including Reeves-Reed Arboretum. Examining her works up close, you may find hidden collaged photographs or words that serve as clues to how the artist was feeling when considering each landscape. Emotions are translated into expressive brush strokes, layers of texture, pattern, and bold colors. In “Pond Song” the viewer can find a collaged photograph of Reeves-Reed’s goldfish pond, juxtaposed with poetic layers of blues and greens. The work is not entirely representational, but hints at the freedom of the movement of water and its hypnotic allure. Looking closer, we find a batik-style paper collaged into the work, which points again to the lyrical repetition of the concentric ripple motif, while also alluding to the texture fish scales.
Pond Song, by Tracey Luckner
On its surface, this exhibition celebrates the beauty in both the tiny details and the big picture of the great outdoors- in what is literal, and what is felt. Dig deeper and the show asks us to consider our own personal relationship to nature, and what it is that pulls us toward places like Reeves-Reed Arboretum. Which leads me to ask: what is it that draws you into nature? When you walk through a place like Reeves-Reed Arboretum are you looking for a tranquil, sensory experience, or are you perhaps looking to learn something new about our local ecosystem? What is it about nature, and in turn art, that leaves you in awe- the fine details, or an abstract sense of wonder? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
I hope you will join us on Sunday, March 20th 2022 from 2-4 pm, for an artist talk and reception. Meet the artists and learn more about their unique perspectives and inspirations. This show is on view through May 8th. Our gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 AM – 4 PM, except during private events. Please visit our hours of operation for more information regarding gallery hours.