For millennia nature has been a source of inspiration for humanity and the artists within it. From cave paintings depicting the birds and the beasts to fertility sculptures celebrating the human form, from the earliest of times we’ve received artistic inspiration from the organic forms and beings surrounding us, to a point that many early religions were based around the worship of the natural world. And really, who can blame them? Even now, with scientific explanations for so many of the wonders of the world so many people’s belief in a divine architect stems from the mindboggling creativity and complexity of the forms that surround us. Of course, whether or not you want to invoke the celestial, the science behind some of the beauty has it’s own elegance.
Take the colour of iridescent butterflies for instance, such as the Morpho butterfly.
If you haven’t had the luck to see one of these in the flesh, then you’ve most definitely seen pictures of them before, or other creatures with the same iridescent colouring. It’s easy to wonder how the hell such brilliant blues can be created through pigment alone, and that’s because there is no pigment involved. In fact, the colour of the Morpho butterfly’s wings come from the physical structure – lots of overlapping scales with grooves in – as the wings themselves are actually colourless and transparent. How could transparent scales create such vivid colours without pigment is obviously the next question, and here the answer is physics! (Although technically, physics is the answer to everything.) To try and explain it simply, the grooves in the scales cause the light to reflect off the scales at slightly different distances, means the peaks and troughs of the waves (time to remember your GCSE physics!) start to add up, causing what is called constructive interference, which causes iridescence (as it makes the light brighter and therefore the butterfly wings shinier!). The reason the butterfly appears blue is because of the spacing on the groves of the butterfly scales, which correspond to the wavelength of blue light (or well, half the wavelength, but the spacing is equal to half the wavelength).
But I digress – but that’s kind of the point. The sights and science of the natural world are so inspiring it’s hard for me now not to go on another spiel about bioluminescence. Of course, it’s easy for everyone to get inspired by nature, but it takes a true artist to be able to communicate the beauty of the world without simply replicating it, and Shaun Leane is one of the few who can do it well. Not only is he inspired by organic forms, but as an artisan jeweller he also works with organic materials, which adds a whole new element to the elemental inspiration. The new SHOWcabinet exhibition demonstrates this all, not only showing bespoke pieces of his work, but also artwork, fashion pieces and natural specimens that inspired them. From emeralds in their natural forms, to feather Philip Treacy headdresses, an actual live snake, and a Damien Hirst butterfly painting, the sources of inspiration unlocks the story behind the showpieces. It’s an inspiring exhibition, and one that I would definitely recommend that you go see, whether your interest is purely aesthetic or deeper. Just be careful not to become broke from wanting to buy it all!
If you’re based in or around London you should totally go check out the SHOWcabinet: Shaun Leane exhibition, which is held at SHOWstudio (19 Motcombe, SW1X 8LB), which just in general has awesome stuff going on in it. Even if you can’t go there (if you’re not based in London, or whatever) you should check it out online. If you like Shaun Leane‘s work, or are interested in finding out more about his life and artistic process there’s a wonderful interview of him by the fabulous Lou Stoppard which I used as a primer to write this piece.
Pretty much everything which goes on at SHOWstudio is awesome (although I may be slightly biased), so you should follow them on twitter/tumblr/facebook and also check out their website. I love seeing all the exhibitions and things which go on there – I haven’t been to a bad one yet, and everyone there is so lovely it’s ridiculous.