DJC Summer

Ecoskeletons: sculpture intersects with botanical art

Bev Tucker uncovers the work of botanical artist Chris van Niekerk and finds out why his creations ring an environmental alarm.

Chris van Niekerk is a horticulturist turned professional floral designer and botanical conceptual artist. His current work, which he dubs Ecoskeletons, draws attention to the beauty and intricacy of insects and their crucial role in maintaining life on earth. His insect sculptures are no fleeting whimsy. Painstakingly fashioned from preserved plant material, the work is electric with urgency.

Humanity is destroying insect biodiversity at an appalling rate. My intention is to create awareness.

Insectarium art studio

His miniature sculptures are based on his background degree in horticulture with entomology as a subject, and urged on by the ticking time bomb of species destruction.

“Insects are by far the most varied and abundant animal species on the planet. They’re also absolutely critical to the survival and functioning of every ecosystem including ours”.

In the past three decades, close to a third of all land-dwelling insects have been wiped out through habitat destruction, pollution, and the use of chemical pesticides. It’s a biodiversity holocaust. Far more serious than merely nights without cricket song – which thought alone chills the blood – the extinction of insect species threatens the continued existence of all life on earth.

Bloom where you’re planted

His career creating large-scale botanical installations with fresh flowers has evolved into working more and more with preserved plant material. “It happened by serendipity. I was invited to a master class in Belgium where I was mesmerized by the amount and variety of preserved plant material they use in Europe. I’d always had an ethical problem working with fresh flowers. I once had to do a wedding using 40 000 pink roses that were dumped the next day. I took them to a horticulturalist friend for his compost heap, but it was awful. After that trip to Belgium I started experimenting with dried Protea and Fynbos in my own work.”

While his botanical architecture is in demand in the design and interiors world, his Ecoskeletons are more intentional. Working with preserved material, he creates the pieces in fine detail by meticulously shaping leaves, seeds, roots, bark, thorns and other botanical matter into realistic looking sculptures that are slightly larger than life.

I don’t aim to create taxonomically correct specimens. My work is an organic process of combining botanical matter in a way that blurs the line between naturalism and illusionism to create a unique form of art. I think I’ve now really found my true path.

Find Chris van Niekerk’s work on facebook.com/chrisvanniekerkbotanicals and Instagram @chrisvanniekerkbotancials

Words: Bev Tucker
Production: J-P de la Chaumette
Images: Chris van Niekerk

Journalist Bev Tucker grew up in various far-flung corners of Africa and now divides her time between South Africa and Ireland. Before she was a journalist she worked in very posh Swiss hotels where she trained in hospitality and learned to clean a bathroom properly. She qualified as an estate agent because she loved houses. She knows the art of pouring the perfect Guinness (long, long ago she was a bartender in a Belfast pub) but it is a wasted skill because she detests the stuff. She has not been to Japan and is quite irritated with herself about this. She became a journalist after she realized it was the most varied, interesting and fun job possible if you can’t be David Attenborough. She has traveled a fair bit and loves Africa more than any other place on earth. You can find more of Bev’s writing at @safariandliving  

DJC Summer