Framing Nature: The Living World in Art, on view through July 17 at the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, offers challenging and enriching perspectives on how we see and understand the natural world through the eyes of artists and makers from around the globe. More than one hundred drawings, prints, paintings, photographs and sculptures, from across time, place and culture, are grouped around the theme of nature creating interesting juxtapositions and comparisons. These are organized along four broad themes: Inspiration, Discovery, Power and Refuge. The exhibition encourages new ways of thinking about the encounter between art and nature, the ideas embodied in that encounter, and the knowledge produced by it.
Artists, from ancient times to the present, have looked to nature as a source of aesthetic inspiration. These works reveal various artists’ insights into and fascination with natural forms and phenomena. Works range from detailed depictions of plant life to idealized landscape views, to abstract designs incorporating naturalist motifs. Featured artists in this grouping include Jerry Cutler, Herman Herzog, William Henry Jackson, Evon Streetman, Toshiko Takaezu and Edward Weston.
Jerry Cutler’s Switch-back Path is a dense magical landscape inspired by poetry. This painting is infused with childhood memories that are transformed into metaphors of travel, searching and personal journeys or struggles. This landscape also takes on a human quality with trees manipulated into twisted arteries and the landscape evoking muscular and skeletal structures. It is not a landscape of observation but a landscape of manipulation, constantly pulsating, pushing us into and pulling us out of the surface of the painting.
In Discovery, art depicting the living world conveys important ideas about humankind’s
understanding and relationship with nature. Spanning the second century to the present, these works address how humans have made sense and use of the world, and how artists have contributed to the dissemination of this knowledge. A number of works on view address the exploitation and use of nature for human ends. For example, artists have used powdered precious metals and stones in their printmaking, as well as dyes extracted from plants, minerals and insects in the making of textiles. A sample of artists represented in this section includes Elizabeth Blackwell, Paul Jacoulet, Bisrat Shibabaw, Carleton E. Watkins and Ellis Wilson.