Susan Hipgrave’s intricate paintings filter historical depictions of the natural world through a striking contemporary lens. Reincarnating forgotten scientific engravings from the dusty pages of nineteenth century encyclopedias, Hipgrave renders zoological and botanical imagery on a ‘circular canvas’ of porcelain in an attempt to understand the natural in an increasingly unnatural age. Her new collection of paintings explores the ‘dark side’ of nature through a focus on instinct and survival. She considers the crossovers between mankind and the animal and plant kingdoms; between the fraught socio-political jungle of our millennial epoch and the environmental jungle of the natural world. ‘In the jungle there is beauty and brutality’, reflects the artist as she analogises the dualities of nature with the paradoxes of the wider world.
Hipgrave’s meticulous painterly process is both intuitive and planned. The artist searches for images that resonate with her; ‘it might be the eye contact of a bird, something that speaks to me’, she reflects. Working with superfine Japanese brushes, she then begins the methodical and meditative practice of applying black underglaze to bisque-fired porcelain, before the plate is fired again. The circular format of the works echoes the spherical shapes of the natural world, from the cellular to the celestial. Bringing together life and death, beauty and decay, Hipgrave’s works are symbolic portals into another time and place, undisturbed by humanity. The works remind us that we are, ultimately, all struggling for survival in a world pivoted on great divides between the strong and weak; between privilege and poverty, and yet beauty and hope shines through the darkest of times.