Art and the Natural World (by Angela Moll)

We recently went through a wildfire here in my neighborhood: nature knocking at our door the hard way. We are now back home, the days have been cool and beautiful for the last couple of weeks. It is easy to go back to the usual routines in the studio and home life.
Gap fire from the living room window

Gap fire from the living room window

The experience has left me thinking about the relationship that I as an artist maintain with the natural world. I mean Nature with a big N. The one we hope to find when we visit a natural preserve or when we go for a walk in a quiet beach. The one we observe in moths and caterpillars and the birds who eat them. Even the one we try to guide and control in our gardens.

My work doesn’t make explicit references to Nature. My imagery derives from calligraphy and hand-writing. The materials I use are highly processed or synthetic. The references in my art are to mental processes, subjectivity and human emotions.

And yet, I get up early every morning to tend the garden were the vegetables and fruits served at our table grow. I live surrounded by National Forest lands. Wild lands. Rocks, oaks, birds and lizards keep me company while I work at the studio. It is very quiet our here. But you wouldn’t know any of this from looking at my work. I’ve actually never paid much mind to the relationship between the place were the art making takes place and the art itself. Until seeing those huge black, gray, white, orange and gray again smoke clouds. Just out back, behind the nearest ridge.

Oak by the studio. Secret Diary 10 (detail). Sun Gold Tomatoes.

Oak by the studio. Secret Diary 10 (detail). Sun Gold Tomatoes.

Fire and art are close, aren’t they? How does the garden, the old oaks which survived the Refugio fire, 50 years ago this summer, the jay, the wren, the warbler touch my art. Do they find their way into the work somehow? I don’t really know, I am pondering…

And so I ask you, Ragged Cloth Cafe regular, does nature find its way into your art? How?

14 Responses to “Art and the Natural World (by Angela Moll)”

  1. 1 lindafrost August 23, 2008 at 9:09 am

    “Nature” is a hot button topic for me, and truly, I do try to not be so psychotic about it. But nature is just so darn unpleasant out here on the prairie. It is cold, and then it is hot, and then on one of the few temperate days… the wind blows 30 mph. A picnic must include bandannas on the head to ward off ticks, stinky bug spray to keep the chiggers and mosquitoes away, and weights on the dishes and tablecloth to keep them from taking off in the “breeze”. Most of the time, I view nature from triple paned windows with screens.
    That being said, birds and flight and vast horizons nearly always inspire me. I need to get out more and breathe in the humid, pollen-filled air! I am in Kansas and that is not going to change. There is no place like home, there is no place like home….

  2. 2 arlee August 16, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Having just started a series that is definitely based on nature, i think i have always been influenced in one form or another. As a floral designer by day, i can’t help but be surrounded even cerebrally by flora :}And if entropy counts, the effects time water and wind have on things, notably rust and metal, then yes, nature is always evident in my work.

  3. 3 Clairan Ferrono August 16, 2008 at 7:46 am

    I agree that nature is everywhere in my work (but often in the background or the deep background of thought). Often I am trying to express the individual experiencing nature, rather than illustrating nature itself.

    I add my relief that the fires passed you by Angela.

  4. 4 bobbi August 15, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I’m not sure what part of my work isn’t influenced by nature. My palette, some of my subject matter, the weather (as it influences my mood which in turn influences my work) and certainly the greens and blues and greys of the water that I have always lived near, whether it be a stream, a river or the pacific ocean, as well as the constant movement of the waters.

  5. 5 Angela Moll August 14, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    @ Nicole, it is precisely the contrast between such a civilized thing as writing, the focus of my work for the longest time, and that wild burning outside my window that got me started with this line of thought.

    Linen vs. polyester is both about nature and about identity, isn’t it?

  6. 6 Angela Moll August 14, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    @ Olga, I love the distinction you make: “not only to look but to see”. Food for thought!

    @ Debbie, yes, how “in tune” is the question. Not only with the natural world, but as you point out, with the meaning that it conveys to us.

    @ Kate, and the study of light allows us to explore and relate to the natural world everywhere: in the middle of the concrete jungle as well as out in the woods.

  7. 7 Nichole August 14, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Angela, I was attracted to your work through your use of text, which I myself have often used – trying to find balance between artist/writer. Most of the prevalent themes in my work are to do with identity but I constantly find myself attracted to the colours and shapes in nature, so I guess I use nature as metaphor.
    I feel much more connected to a piece of linen than a piece of polyester. I have no idea why…food for thought there perhaps!
    It is indeed humbling to witness nature unleash her fury. It reminds how small we really are, i think.

  8. 8 June August 14, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Hi all,

    A bit of administrivia: We have a nasty spammer who currently appears about 10 –15 times a day in the comments, and the Akismet spam catcher doesn’t seem to be catching it.

    Those of you who are Contributors — who write posts — have the ability to delete the spam. If you see any, please feel free. You do so by going to the Comments section.

    Sometimes I don’t get to my computer as often as I perhaps should and I have been known to go out of town beyond the reach of the internet; the sooner we can get rid of the nasties, the better for the site. The spam appears to be commenting on an old post, but of course, it looks like a new comment.


  9. 9 kate August 14, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Hi Angela,
    I’m glad you and your home are safe from the wildfires now!
    It is humbling to remember how we are at nature’s mercy. Even as technology evolves and our homes become more modern and comfortable, we are just one giant hurricane, earthquake or wildfire away from our primitive roots.

    Nature is very influential in my work. I have done several studies of flowers, trees and insects that I’ve found on my own property or in our neighborhood. Lately I’ve been exploring the effects of light on objects & how to create the illusion of light using fabric.
    Sunlight, moonlight, reflections on water… there are so many interesting variations!

  10. 10 Debbie Babin August 14, 2008 at 2:53 am

    As we are all a part of nature, the question is: How “in tune” are we with nature? I think nature influences all of us to some extent. I have always lived near water and connect water with the sense of “freedom”. To not be near water would be a huge negative for me; however, water is not an obvious influence in my work. But, freedom is. By freedom I mean, flowing lines and shapes; movement.
    Interestingly enough, I am currently participating in a workbook group and part of the study is to select a theme. I selected water, but not right away. In fact it took me a long time to decide on a theme. I chose water because it is all around me as I live on a beautiful creek. I wanted to truly study the subject and ponder. Now that I have embarked upon this study, I realize how influential water has been all my life; I just wasn’t consciously aware of it.
    Reading Clairan’s essay started me to think initially; I am grateful for her contribution. Now I am beginning to connect both the conscious and subconscious thoughts; this is wonderful!

  11. 11 Olga August 13, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    I’m glad that a threatening situation remained a thought-provoking one and no more for you. Your interesting question has been swirling around in my mind since reading the post.

    With no formal training in practical art I suspect that it was very largely Nature which provided lessons in colour and spacial relationships (as well as a long-standing passion for looking at art). My countryman father encouraged me not only to look but to see when I was very young, and since then I have spent many a long minute just gazing. I suspect that quiet patient observation of Nature developed into a habit of watching people too. So it could be said that my preference for figurative subjects came from there – especially as it is the communicative power of body language which particularly interests me.

    In my work itself the main element of Nature which is pictured is the sea. I am drawn to the idea that we came from the oceans, and prefer to think of myself returning there at my end. I enjoy being in the sea – both because of the sensuous pleasure, and also because of the frisson of danger. So I have made several pieces of work picturing figures involved with the sea, and return to that theme from time to time.

    Representing water and the feeling of the water in its many manifestations is also a challenge I enjoy. Indeed I am at present working on a handfull of pieces at various stages of development all involved with water.

    Thank you for raising the question.

  12. 12 Angela Moll August 13, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    @ Sheila, Interesting how moving has revealed to you the influence of your natural surroundings in your art. I’ll have to pay more attention to the kinds of connections you mention.

    @ June, the foliage in your neighborhood is tangled indeed! And overwhelming, at least to my arid land sensibility. Makes sense to me that you need to go paint to the high desert from time to time…

  13. 13 June August 13, 2008 at 7:05 pm


    First, I’m so glad you escaped the fire and life has settled down enough to allow you to join us again. Whew! what a relief.

    I think the pondering about what influences us is extremely useful to extend our own thinking. It may or may not change our art, but being aware of what is influencing us is being aware of our environment. That’s a Good Thing.

    Here in Portland, the neighborhood has the greatest influence on my work — and something about the evening light is creeping into what I do. But I also think the tangled, glorious, muddled surrounds of foliage that overwhelms western Oregon shows up as tangles of imagery in my work. Not necessarily “nature” imagery, but the lines and shapes aren’t “clean” here and neither is my art. Yet I admire the cleanness found in lots of other people’s art. Of course, we don’t have to make what we admire — in fact, since others do it so well, we may be more able to follow our own interests.

    Anyway, glad you are back and I think I see influences of your surrounds in the photograph — the dark linear structure of the oak as well as the orange of the orange. And the organic quality of line and shape.

  14. 14 Sheila August 13, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Constantly. But it took awhile for me to make the connection. And then I saw its influence everywhere, from the color palette I felt most comfortable working with to the undulations that started showing up after I moved next to a wooded area with lots of birch trees.

    I’ve moved again and with this acknowledgment to self of nature’s influence, I study it even more keenly than I did before. I’m more apt now to actually incorporate tree and leaf shapes, abstract or not, and spot interesting color combinations on my walks that I purposely incorporate into my next work. But even when I think I’m working on something totally unrelated, I can often see after the fact how all this sensory information I’ve obviously stored in the back of my brain leaks out into nearly everything I do.

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