Since times immemorial people have exploring the mysterious connection between the man and the nature. The ancient people believed that life was governed by mysterious natural powers to which divine omnipotence was ascribed. With the coming of the industrial era, the distance between the man and the nature grew larger until a disastrous point was achieved when mechanical and artificial things substituted what would normally come from nature.
However, in the modern era of environmentalism, people appear to be turning back to their origins in an attempt to save the planet from an ecological catastrophe. This tendency is reflected in modern art that chooses the unity of the man and the nature as one of its main topics.
One of the examples illustrating the unity of the man and the nature is an artwork by Lloyd Walsh Flesh to Earth (1995). This is an oil on canvas diptych that consists of two images, 40 by 30 inches each: a rose in its full blossom and a torso of a mature woman with loose hair and arms crossed to cover her naked breasts . The thematic affinity of the two paintings can be traced in the way Walsh manages the formal elements: the color, the light, and the composition.
Both paintings are performed in a brown color scheme that reminds sepia effects in photography. The light falls on both the rose and the woman from the right, which is emphasized by a distinct shift in the tints of the color from a very light beige to the darkest brown. Each of the two paintings has only one item depicted in it, which immensely focuses the viewer’s attention and evokes contemplation on the deeper meaning of the paintings.
A second illustration of the connection between the man and the nature can be found in an artwork by Betty Ward Man with Sunflower, The man with the sunflower hand making love to the woman whose hair is a river (2004–2006).
The first thing that turns the viewer’s attention is the medium of this 54 by 54 inches round image: it is a cotton embroidery set off with silk petals and put in a hand-carved metal frame. The composition of the artwork clearly comprises three zones. The right half of the embroidery depicts a body of a naked woman whose long luxuriant hair curls and flows in blue waves as the waters of a river.
In the bottom left part of the embroidery, there is a body of a naked man whose green hair reminds grass blades and who is stretching his hand – in shape of a sunflower – to the woman. Yet another image is featured at the top left part of the embroidery: a woman sitting on a chair with her legs crossed.
The body of the woman and the chair itself are done in shades of grey and black, which sets this image off as extraneous to the colorful unity of the other two bodies. Such a contrast suggests a semantic opposition between the world of nature filled with color and love, and the colorless world of civilization.
Both works attracted my attention and won my appreciation by their sincerity and suggestion of a deeper meaning. Although it is possible to enjoy each of them simply for the beauty of line, color, light, and composition, it appears even more exciting to think about the ideas underlying the artworks.
The titles of the works provide sufficient hints for deciphering their meaning. Flesh to Earth suggests categorizing the woman as ‘flesh’ and the rose as ‘earth’ and uniting them on the basis of their similar nature. The rose is splendid in its bloom, and so is the woman in her heyday.
From this parallelism stems the idea that human life cycle is similar to that of plants, and thus the immediate connection between the man and the nature is established. An analogous idea comes to one’s mind when looking at Man with Sunflower: the couple in love merge with each other and with powers of nature, while the image of a colorless woman remains solitary in the seclusion of civilization.
Trough observation of modern artworks, it becomes possible to realize how much significance is given by artists to the connection between the man and the nature. The message of such artworks reads that only via this ultimate bond is happiness and harmony possible on this planet.
Walsh, Lloyd. Flesh to Earth. 1995. San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas.
Ward, Betty. Man with Sunflower, The man with the sunflower hand making love to the woman whose hair is a river. 2004–2006. San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas.