For centuries, botanists have attempted to document the complexity of plant life by draw realistic representations in.With the advent of photography, this practice has undergone some changes, but other traditional methods such as natural print– which involved the use of ink, gum or plaster to create images of herbarium – which still fascinates people even today.
Headquartered in London Rachel Den is an artist who has helped to rekindle interest in this centuries-old tradition of nature printing through elaborate plaster casts of various plants, vegetables and fruits, carefully arranged to reveal each piece. The smallest details of leaves and roots.
These intricate tiles, ranging in size from 6 inches to several feet, are made by pressing plant matter into clay. These are fastened with a wooden frame, and the plants are removed from the frame before pouring plaster, concrete or iron powder and resin into the recesses left. These are left to solidify, and then the clay is exfoliated to expose the final ingredients of plant life, frozen in time.
Looking at these delicate and sturdy artworks, it is as if these once-living plants were immortalized, pieced together from intricate veins or sawtooth leaves.
Unlike two-dimensional drawings, this choice of tactile medium allows us to see and even touch plants more closely, which are captured in a way that evokes the wonders of science and a childlike reverence for the inherent beauty of nature. Sometimes the tiles are lightly hand-painted in color to further accentuate the details.
As Dein explained to us in an email:
“In general, my job is to show the beauty of nature. By casting plants, I try to protect the ephemeral, point out the death of all living things, and try to slow down the inevitable. I always find comfort in nature, Its tenacity – like the plants on the tarmac still popping out of the cracks, and many other examples – despite human efforts to conquer it.”
Dunn’s artistic career began by experimenting with various art forms and techniques. One day, during an introductory class on glass blowing, she tried pouring molten glass over shapes pressed into sand. This method of glass casting piqued her interest, and she herself began casting things in plaster and clay—a joyous discovery that would later influence her artistic trajectory.
Dunn went on to spend five years in prop making at the English National Opera, the Globe Theatre and the Royal Opera House. But she never forgot the wonder and amazement she experienced in her original cast.
From her early years, plaster casting has become Dein’s main creative expression in recent years, thanks to a number of fortuitous events, early exhibitions and commissions that have introduced her work to a wider public. She is now a regular at the Chelsea Flower Show, where she has been exhibiting for almost a decade, and will take place on 24 May this year. In addition, her work has appeared in a series of wallpapers made in America, as well as in private residences and galleries.
Dein is currently building a foundry for Nunnington Hall, a National Trust property in Yorkshire, which will culminate in an exhibition at Nunnington in spring 2023.
Despite the deceptive simplicity of Dein’s work, the real authenticity of its documentation of nature’s existence connects viewers directly with the bounty of nature through sight and touch. While she admits that she is not an overt political figure, Dein is doing her part in an effort to create art that hopes to have a lasting impact on viewers in their relationship to nature, saying:
“Perhaps it’s been nearly 30 years since I found myself expressing things as an artist’s voice, and it’s not reassuring now that humans do have a negative, irreversible impact on our planet. Work on the topic is relevant because connecting with nature makes us care more about nature. Attracting attention to nature will encourage those around me to care, so be proactive and help stop climate change.”