For this post I thought I’d share some reference points I’ve been looking at recently. The stuff I've been doing in the last year or so comes out of researching scientific illustrators, like Ernst Haeckel, who was a German, Darwin-era scientist and illustrator, and Maria Sibylla Merian who was a little earlier, pre-Linnaeus. I also draw on biomorphic abstraction, so more the history of painting, which I think is related. For instance, Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint was totally stealing from Ernst Haeckel's compositions.
I have no desire to recreate natural history illustrations, because I think it's a bit problematic. Going to other countries and cataloguing plants and animals, has inherently colonial implications. But Maria Sibylla Merian’s illustrations are interesting because she studied the life cycles of insects and demystified them—literally, this was an era where European people though "Caterpillars just magically reproduce!" Her illustrations occupy a funny place in art history, they're usually shown as ornamental drawings, but really, she was one of the first Europeans to say, "No, plants and animals are interconnected in these complex ways, and they have life cycles..." she was basically an ecologist, before that word existed. Ernst Haeckel came up with the term ‘ecology’, and his work and this Swedish mystical painter Klint’s are very alike. That’s interesting to me, to think about how science and art are connected systems of thought.
Here are some other artists, books, and things I’ve been looking at, in relation to untangling ideas about decorative traditions and the natural world:
Charline von Heyl's biomorphic forms
The Garden Going On Without Us, poems by Lorna Crozier
Earths Grow Thick (Roni Horn Catalogue)
Donna Haraway, Staying With the Trouble
May Morris' wallpaper designs