Forget photographs of wildlife. Why not take a unique approach to celebrating the natural world?
Reporter: Chloe Chapman | Sub-Editor: Cecilia Peruzzi
The Natural Eye marks the 53rd annual exhibition by the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA). Situated in the Mall Galleries, this vibrant collection of paintings, sketches and sculptures beautifully combines art and wildlife.
As you enter the gallery, the diversity of the collection is immediately apparent. Inside the main room, paintings and sketches drawn by children as young as 6 are displayed on the wall.
With drawings ranging from a wonderful green frog to more intricate works like a goose upon the water, it is clear that the SWLA is very inclusive, welcoming art from all ages. It really brings home the idea that you are never too young or old to get involved with art.
Expect to see colourful depictions of butterflies perched upon wild flowers, woodlands in bloom, engravings of insects and sculptures ranging from the humble dragonfly to a baby African elephant.
A particularly striking range of work is Harriet Mead’s collection of various animal created by welded scrap metal. It makes for very unusual sculptures, with objects such as screws and bolts forming the feet of her Sickle Tailed Jungle Fowl; or scissor blades for the wings of a cuckoo.
The artists have pushed out all the stops and used various materials, techniques and subject choices that make up unique pieces that reflect their individual style and intentions.
Perhaps one of the most interesting rooms in the exhibition is the one featuring artwork from the Turkish Sweetgum Project. Following several years in development, the project was finally given the go ahead after EU funding was granted.
The project began with a collaboration between SWLA president, Harriet Mead and Vice-President, Bruce Pearson and conservation NGO, Doğa Koruma Merkezi (DKM). According to SWLA and project member Nik Pollard, the aim was to “build cultural bridges through art and nature”.
He also added that they wanted to “promote and increase the capacity for wildlife art as a tool for conservation in Turkey and to “raise awareness of the increasingly rare patches of endemic sweetgum forests”.
After Nik joined the DKM team in Turkey in June, they began working in preparation for ‘Artist Week’. At the beginning of the week, he was joined by fellow SWLA members Ben Woodhams, Greg Poole and Esther Tyson along with 25 Turkish participants.
The students were given carefully selected materials and equipment and told about the aims of the project as well as the requirements to ensure its success. They then went out and visited three key sights, also exploring the surrounding landscape.
After so much planning the past setbacks, it was clear everyone wanted the project to be successful. DKM member Aydan Özkil commented: “Dragging 25 young artists out of their studios for the first time was both an intensive and risky task.”
He then went on to add “seeing the forest ecosystem from their perspective and witnessing their enthusiasm was very promising regarding the aim of the project”.
The participants also took a lot from the experience. Birdwatcher Tora Benzeyen said: “I didn’t think of myself as an artist before; but the British Team shaped me, changed my point of view and made me notice what I am capable of. Now I proudly think of myself as a wildlife artist”.
With such an exciting project and enthusiastic team, it’s not surprising that members of both the SWLA and DKM now want to form their own society.
For those interested in finding out more, a bilingual book documenting both the project and the issues affecting the Sweetgum forests is set to be published later this year.
The project’s featured artwork on display varies from simple sketches to detailed paintings and more, forming a fantastic collection that when seen together, really showcases the success of the project and the different perspectives each participant took when depicting the forest.
The Natural Eye once again has exceeded expectations and seamlessly joined those with a passion for art and wildlife. Immerse yourself in the wonderful works and get inspired to see wildlife in a whole new way. The exhibition is running until November 6 and at just £3 per ticket, you can’t afford not to go.