“Tool Box Flower Box” is an exhibit featuring single works by 20 Chicago artists. The show highlights facets of urban life where art, technology and nature co-exist. Pieces represent a range of media from oils and acrylics to watercolor, ink and mixed media. The collection is assembled to create a “suite of nature” reminiscent of a botanical manual. The exhibit symbolizes how technology, mechanical tools and organic plant life harmonize to achieve a sense of balance.
The show was conceived and organized by the team of Fletcher Hayes and Kim Laurel in support of Chicago Artists Month, celebrated throughout the city during October. The theme of this year’s tribute is “City as Studio” and explores the impact the urban environment has on local artists and their work.
“Modern cities are characterized by glass skyscrapers, high-tech communications and a frenetic lifestyle. Nature is often an afterthought when defining urban settings,” says Laurel. “However, those who love the city life find a way to include the pure, cathartic power of nature whether through actual urban gardening or symbolic means.”
Thus a daily dose of nature may be found in a single flower box suspended 39 floors above a manic city street. A small garden oasis thrives on a cement island in the financial district, a patch of dandelions grows audaciously in the dust of a construction site, digital images of plants and trees emanate from the plasma screen in the window of the electronics store.
“Human beings find ways to adapt their environment and compensate for perceived imbalances in their lives. Nature and technology can and do blend in unusual ways,” adds Hayes.
Most pieces presented in Tool Box Flower Box were created specifically for the show. The artists were asked to comply with a uniform size but enjoyed free will in terms of medium and theme interpretation.
The twenty artists contributing to the exhibit include: Ruby Barnes, Sharon Bladholm, George C. Clarke, Laura Coyle, Deborah Adams Doering, Kathryn Gauthier, Michael Goro, Steve Grant, Fletcher Hayes, Eve Jensen, Deborah Maris Lader, Kim Laurel, Richard Laurent, Gregorio Mejia, Joyce Owens, Jeff Stevenson, Neil Shapiro, Michael Thompson, Kathy Weaver and Jill Zylke.
“Clivia Miniata Raspea,” Laura Coyle (Watercolor): A colorful rendition of this South African plant looks lovely to the casual observer. In Victorian England the newly imported species was believed to have cleansing powers, countering the dirt and grime of big cities like London. However, it was soon discovered that the plant produced allergic reactions upon contact with human skin. One legendary story led to the cancelled nuptials of a prominent social couple when the bride’s bouquet produced an unsightly rash. The incident was remembered as the simple plant that attacked the British Empire.
“Deus Ex Machina,” Kathy Weaver (Gouache): The title of this piece refers to a literary device where the plot and ultimate outcome hinges on drastic interventions. The artist believes the fate of nature and organic life currently requires such change. The robot in this piece symbolizes “Everyman” surviving in a sophisticated, mechanized world. The figure is at a crossroads trying to determine how technology and nature will co-exist. The artist feels the choice is to remember our humanity and ease up on consumption or forge ahead greedily and suffer the consequences.
“Tools and Orchids,” Sharon Bladholm (Watercolor on antique ledger paper): Bladholm’s aesthetic images are backed with extensive botanic research. She has traveled to remote locations including the Peruvian Amazon to document the conservation of endangered plants and animals. Her work is grounded in her avid commitment to preserving world habitats. “Tools and Orchids” depicts well-used gardening tools morphing into flowers…tools that bring beauty into life whether organic vegetation or botanical art.
“Start Here,” Joyce Owens (Mixed media): The human as machine is the focus of this low-relief work. The female figure exists in a bed of flowers and other botanic matter. Owens sends a message of warning; nature will eventually exist only in our minds if we do not adjust our living practices to stop and reverse climate change.
Tool Box Flower Box is part of Chicago Artists Month 2010, the 15th annual celebration of Chicago’s vibrant visual art community coordinated by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.