Art is alive with Mount Pleasant’s poppies. From now until December 12, North Van Arts is showcasing Métis, Franco-Ontarian artist, Nathaniel Marchand’s Florescence, an exhibit with living mediums at Lynn Valley’s District Library Gallery.
Featuring foraged petals and leaves, the pieces of Florescence highlight Marchand’s use of pressed materials from BC’s coastal landscape – which are then vulnerable to changes through time. Inspired by the natural world, Marchand’s interest in ethnobotanical histories and materiality is rooted in everyday experiences, including the enjoyment of nature’s ephemeral beauty both on and off the canvas.
Rethinking materiality and process
“The admiration for plants and the natural world came first,” says Marchand about his desire to bridge art with ecology. “After I attended art school, it slowly started to inform my practice more and more whether it was making natural pigments or eventually leading to these series of botanical collages.”
Originally from Midland, ON, Marchand attended art school in Yukon – a change of scenery, he remarks, as having reignited his curiosity for plant life. The pieces showcased in Florescence were created after his move to BC in 2018. First residing in Victoria then relocating to Vancouver in March 2020, Marchand notes that his time on the Canadian West Coast has marked a shift from a general interest in plants to a focus on their artistic quality.
“I’ve been seeking out plants that are readily available, so I can forage sustainably,” says Marchand. “And with more so a mind for what pigment I might get out of them, how they might press and be arranged compositionally and colour-wise.”
More than a change of perspective, Marchand’s time in BC has also been significant in terms of developing a new technique for pressing plants. In fact, he sees Florescence as a visual representation of his time exploring and honing this new method, which involves using a dry iron on top of a paper towel as opposed to the traditional method of pressing with books.
“A lot of those pieces were some of my first in this technique I’ve been developing – realizing which pressing methods worked for which type of petals and leaves, and how to preserve their colour,” said Marchand.
A temporal surprise
Even though Marchand’s intentions were not to permanently preserve the materials, he remarks that it is interesting to see how the colours of pieces created in 2018 and 2019 have altered or remained static. Like the dynamic nature of his materials, much of Marchand’s process happens through trial and error, making it intensely experimental.
“As I always tell people in my ink making workshops, the experimentation is part of it,” says Marchand. “It’s not always going to work out, but, every now and then, you might be pleasantly surprised by what it does – and it adds to the fun.”
The works that form Florescence are indeed rooted in an experimental temporality as Marchand describes how his foraging, pressing and, finally, application of these materials is meticulous and time-consuming. The temporality of this process is visible to viewers if they, too, take their time at the exhibit.
“Start with whichever one you are drawn to and spend time with it from afar, up close,” says Marchand. “There’s a lot of detail going on, and, as you approach, you can see the movement and the time that goes into them.”
One of the pieces through which viewers can practice this slow observation is a circular work of approximately 40 by 40 inches that is composed of poppies Marchand foraged near his neighbourhood in Mount Pleasant. While Marchand does not see his art as directly making statements about climate change, the closeness through which he interacts with his surrounding environment opens space to appreciate nature and consider sustainable practices.
“I think if we can have an appreciation and understanding of the variety of living things that make up our ecosystems, that’s when we’ll start to care and protect these things,” says Marchand.
For more information, please see: https://northvanarts.ca/events-exhibitions/nathaniel-marchand