The Yale Center for British Art presents ‘Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower’: Artists’ Books and the Natural World, an exhibition examining the intersections of artistic and scientific interest in natural history and the natural world from the sixteenth century to the present. On view from 15 May through 10 August, 2014, the exhibition explores depictions of Britain’s countryside and its native plant and animal life through more than two hundred objects drawn primarily from the Center’s collections, ranging from centuries-old manuscripts to contemporary artists’ books. CCW Professor Eileen Hogan,will deliver the keynote opening lecture focusing on her artistic response to Little Sparta, the garden created by Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, and featured in the exhibition. The lecture will take place at the Yale Center for British Art on Wednesday 14 May at 5:30 pm.
The exhibition highlights the scientific pursuits in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that resulted in the collecting and cataloguing of the natural world. Also explored are the aesthetically oriented activities of self-taught naturalists during the Victorian era, particularly those of women who collected and drew specimens of butterflies, ferns, grasses, feathers, seaweed and shells, and assembled them into albums and commonplace books. Examples of twentieth- and twenty-first-century artists’ books, including those of Hogan, Mandy Bonnell, Tracey Bush, John Dilnot, Sarah Morpeth, Anne Lydiatt (CCW PhD student) and Helen Douglas (visiting lecturer on MA Book Arts at Camberwell College of Arts), broaden the vision of the natural world to incorporate its interaction with consumer culture and with modern technologies. Work by contemporary artists in the exhibition reveal a shared inspiration to record, interpret and celebrate nature as in the work of their predecessors.
‘Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower’ features traditional bound books, drawings and prints, as well as a range of more experimental media incorporating cut paper, wood, stone, natural specimens, sound, video and interactive multimedia. A number of key historic works will be on loan from other Yale collections, including the Yale University Art Gallery and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Examples of early microscopes used by natural historians will also be on view, on loan from the Lentz Collection at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Andrew Rafferty, professor at RISD, reviewed the exhibition, writing, ‘The culminating experience for viewers of the exhibition evokes a cultural figure who has been tremendously influential on the younger artists in the show. Ian Hamilton Finlay is represented both through a selection of his books of concrete poetry and through landscape paintings of his greatest single work, Little Sparta, the garden/constructed landscape/installation/poem-in-space that he createdon his land near Du syre in the Borders area of Scotland. Finlay used plantings, architecture, sculpture, and text to create an extended meditation on nature, language, art, literature, history, and politics. Little Sparta and Finlay are brought to the galleries in New Haven through the paintings of Eileen Hogan, who has spent time during each of the past fifteen years working at Finlay’s garden, identifying key subjects within his work. She came to know the famously prickly artist, and the exhibition includes several portraits she painted of Finlay before his death in 2006. Hogan is a marvelous painter in the tradition of the best followers of Cezanne. One thinks of the soft, dry touch of Gwen John, the careful observation of nature by William Coldstream, and the precision of Euan Uglow, applied to a deeply felt experience of landscape created by a conceptual artist who was in his own way the equal of Andy Warhol or Joseph Beuys. Her work is an astonishing blend of old and new and a bracing exit for this wonderful exhibition.’
The accompanying book, published in association with Yale University Press, is being designed to evoke an early naturalist’s field guide and includes essays by Hogan and Clive Phillpot, Honorary UAL Fellow .