I am lucky enough to be having two concurrent exhibitions of metalpoint drawings here in California at the moment. One is at the lovely Celery Space gallery and boutique in Berkeley, the other at a hipster cafe, Subrosa in Oakland. One not far from the other, I discover, which makes it easier for me to reflect on this experience of seeing a considerable number of earlier drawings on display.
Most of these drawings now on display here in Berkeley and Oakland, (geographically one location is very close to the other), were done some time ago, when I was able to spend time marvelling at the splendour and diversity of flowers growing in Spain or on the Georgia coast. Only the Herbularium series was done more recently when I and my patient nurseryman in Mallorca worked out the relevant colours of herbs’ flowers so that I could do four drawings in each coloured ground to allude to the relevant flowers. I kept revisiting his herb selection as it changed and he got really involved in the project - it was so nice!
Botanical drawings lead an artist to a really intimate dialogue. For a start, it depends on whether a flower will last in water once you pick it, or whether you have to draw it while still on the plant as it will otherwise wilt and change drastically. You need to know its characteristics. You really need to draw the flower as a live subject; photographs do not convey the same nuances and essence. Even it is happy to be in a vase, it will move and turn, following the light, so there is always a type of reconciliation between the beginning and the end of the drawing, depending on the time taken to accomplish the drawing. I remember one especially surprising flower, the wondrous, fragrant Magnolia grandiflora; I picked it about 10 a.m. and to my horror, it had firmly closed up tightly a couple of hours later. I had to abandon the drawing. But then, to my fascination, early next morning, it was open again and I finished the drawing. It taught me that it apparently needed night or early-morning beetles and perhaps moths for pollination because magnolias evolved before the advent of bees.
All of the drawings I am exhibiting here in California represent other moments of delight and fascination as I marvelled at the intricacy, sculptural effects, delicacy - or perfume - of the flowers. Each so different, each a miracle of evolution and survival in our harsh planet, often accomplished in discrete and seemingly humble fashion. Seeing these drawings grouped together also now makes me realise more acutely the question marks that hang over their continued well-being as we humans career towards changing their habitat and general environment. When many were done a while ago, climate change was far more abstract a context.
The other thought that comes to me as I see these past drawings with new eyes is that I, as an artist, have also evolved - constructively, I would hope! My inner voice, my eye, have added new dimensions. I find myself being impelled to gather stones, pieces of bark - other aspects of nature that I did not necessarily relate to so intensely before. And in those - again seemingly humble and often surprising to other people - I find other worlds, other voices, other paths to history, geology, botany and biology. It is a somewhat logical progression, in terms of knowledge and artistic development: I have always loved to draw landscapes, trees, plants, boulders, etc. Now I have evolved to the closer, more intimate views. Perhaps for me, that is the ultimate gift that my metalpoint drawings afford me; the enrichment of knowledge in so many unexpected and wonderful fields that in turn lead to my meeting new friends and going to unknown parts of the world.
These two exhibitions of botanical drawings at Celery Space and Subrosa have made me measure how much my art practice has widened the world for me. What a fabulous gift Nature has afforded me as an artist!