Heaven & Earth

Melissa Scallan talks us through five artists inspired by the power of land, sea and air: Karen LaMonte, Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Mitch Dobrowner, Nikohl Starr, and Tay Bak Chiang.

Hedge Magazine - Issue 51 - July 2018.

Karen LaMonte

It was the fascinating discovery that clouds could be hundreds of tonnes in weight that propelled American sculptor Karen LaMonte to create her magnificent, monumental, marble cloud sculpture, Cumulus – seen here at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Wanting to base her sculpture on the size, shape and weight of an actual cloud, LaMonte worked closely with climate scientists at Caltech to calculate the exact dimensions. With the aid of a supercomputer, they undertook one of the largest cloud simulations they’d attempted and digitally created an array of clouds. LaMonte then converted the data into this complex, bulbous, muscular sculpture; anthropomorphic in nature, as clouds often are, its shape is reminiscent of twisting and writhing human bodies. And, at 2.5 tonnes, it matches the water weight of its corresponding cloud.

Known more widely for her metal and glass clothing sculptures, LaMonte experienced no qualms sculpting something vastly different and, in fact, felt compelled to create it: “You can only be brave if you perceive risk and I didn’t perceive any risk at all… I had to make the piece.” She also perceives a connection between clouds and her existing body of work, explaining that clouds and clothing are universal and both, therefore, are unifying experiences.

CUMULUS (2017): By Karen LaMonte. Italian marble; height: 8ft. 

Scarlett Hooft Graafland

Photographer Scarlett Hooft Graafland is drawn to remote, un-westernised places where the landscape is powerful and the society is interesting. She immerses herself in communities – often living with families and staying for months at a time – thereby earning their trust and encouraging their participation in her colourful, site-specific work. She’s lived among groups as diverse as the Iglulik of Northern Canada and the indigenous peoples of the Bolivian Highlands. Gaining entry into an isolated community can be challenging but being personable, an artist and a linguist (she’s Dutch) Hooft Graafland is mostly ableto charm, draw or speak her way in.

Inspired by the diaries of Captain Cook, Hooft Graafland travelled to Vanuatu, taking with her a scale model of HMS Resolution; she likes to weave in elements of cultural or historic importance and the boat’s bold and interesting shape reflects her sculptural background.

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Adhering to the local custom, she drank jaw-numbing alcohol with the tribal chief and then discovered he was a descendent of those who had originally welcomed Cook. In this striking image, his son – wearing his own modern, branded shorts – is standing approximately where the ship would have anchored. As she says: “It’s really beautiful how it all came together.” For more information, see flowersgallery.com.

RESOLUTION, MALEKULA, VANUATU (2015): By Scarlett Hooft Graafland. C-type print. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York.

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Mitch Dobrowner

Resurrecting a photography career after a hiatus of several decades, American Mitch Dobrowner has wasted no time covering ground – literally, critically and commercially. Over the last 12 years he’s travelled more than 100,000 miles capturing the striking landscapes that have earned him magazine covers, awards, commissions and book deals.

Dobrowner is particularly well known for his dramatic monochrome storm images: violent tornados, spectacular lightning strikes, powerful thunderstorms and remarkable cloud formations. Mammatus [pictured] was taken in the aftermath of a violent storm; although the atmosphere was serene and quiet, this extraordinary, ominous, rain-engorged cloud persisted. Dobrowner embarks on road trips with storm chasers – people with satellite feeds coming into their vans from the Storm Prediction Center, who know where the super cell and tornadic storms are, and who he trusts with exit strategies: “Roger knows if we need to get out of there, he’ll yell.”

Dobrowner is in awe of what he sees and considers it his legacy to leave behind a record of the power, the beauty and the vastness of the storms rather than the devastation and havoc often wreaked by these powerful weather systems.

For more information, see mitchdobrowner.com.

MAMMATUS (2016): By Mitch Dobrowner. Pigment inks on archival cotton rag paper.

Nikohl Starr

It was during a 43-day trip across Africa in 2017 that American landscape and wildlife photographer Nikohl Starr chartered a helicopter to shoot the dunes falling into the sea along the Namibian coast. Colliding currents of warm and cool air typically shroud the Skeleton Coast in thick belts of fog and Starr embarked on the journey with resigned acceptance that the view was quite likely to be obscured.

However, as the helicopter approached the coast, pockets of bright sun were able to penetrate the dense fog and illuminate the dunes below. Starr was captivated: “Between the heavy layers of fog, intense light and mind-bending shapes of the dunes, it was an abstract dream.” Starr aims to create images that are “a little different or outside the box” and, in Sensual Sands [pictured], she has beautifully captured the undulating shapes, the ever-changing light and the blown sand of this absolutely stunning terrain.

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Starr will return to Africa in August to observe the great migration of some two million wildebeest, gazelles and zebras as they travel the 800km from Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains to Kenya’s Masai Mara.

Nikohl Starr’s work will be on display at the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival in Franklin, Tennessee, 22-23 September 2018.

For more information, see nikohlstarr.com .

SENSUAL SANDS, NAMIBIA (2017): By Nikohl Starr. Limited edition of ten; platine archival print. 

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Tay Bak Chiang

The attractive paintings of Malaysia-born artist Tay Bak Chiang feature rocks, tropical plants and lotus ponds – elements commonly found in the natural landscapes of Singapore (his adopted homeland) and Southeast Asia. A walk through a nature reserve inspired his stone series: “The huge granite rocks amid the greenery were like strong, silent figures. Some were lying in seemingly precarious positions and yet they appeared to be at ease.” Bak Chiang perceives these rocks as sentient beings: experiencing the world around them, seeking peace and harmony and adapting to their environment.

Trained in Chinese ink painting, the three-dimensional nature of his textured rock is created using a combination of vibrant western pigments and traditional Chinese inks, which he applies in multiple layers to achieve an intensity of colour and an aged-effect on the stone’s surface. Through these rocks and the red-whiskered bulbul birds, Bak Chiang tells stories; suggesting At First Sight [pictured] could be a chance encounter that may unfold as a love story.

Bak Chiang’s work is in numerous collections including Simmons & Simmons, Swiss Re, OCBC and United Overseas Bank.

For more information, see cube-gallery.co.uk .

AT FIRST SIGHT (2018): By Tay Bak Chiang. Pigment, ink and colour on paper; 96cm x 96cm. Courtesy of the artist and Cube Gallery.

PHOTOGRAPH Arron Teo Arron Teo for Tay Bak Chiang

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