HVA Members' Meetings and AGM

Here you can find Mel Hilbrown's review of our last meeting ... and an important date for your diary... Our AGM will take place at the University of Hertfordshire on Wednesday 6 June at 7.00pm followed by a great opportunity to visit to the Herts University Degree Show.  We will send members AGM papers and further details by email.

Photographic exhibition, illustrated nature lecture or art exhibition?

Andy Sands, who gave HVA’s illustrated lecture on April 17th, is a very unassuming man.  He talked with passion about his love of the natural world, especially as seen in insects, birds and small mammals; and of the effort that he has to expend to capture these images, including the hours of waiting in discomfort, crawled over by some of his subjects.  He did not talk much about the technical skill or the vision required to capture those images of such stunning intensity – and I do not think he mentioned the word ‘art’ once.

And yet the effect was certainly an artistic one. Little noises from the audience from time to time indicated that the images aroused emotion, wonder and awe.  Perhaps the idea that we might be seeing more than a string of random photos was conveyed in Andy’s title: ‘Secret Britain: a photographic journey through nature’.  What we were seeing was a body of work, embarking on a journey of imagination and taking us deeper.

Projected on the University of Hertfordshire’s equipment on to two large screens in the lecture theatre, images that we might see in a book a few inches high were now several feet high – but retaining pin-sharp clarity.  And when the images are of insects measured in millimetres and butterflies a few inches, the effect is disorienting.  Yes, the pictures are real, but are they realistic? Normally, you would never see these creatures like this: motionless and frozen in time, at this scale, with this detail and precision.  The effect is not to me of scientific recording but of artistic recreation.  What we are seeing is NOT reality but a hyper-reality – and this was accidentally emphasised by the difference in the projection of the image onto two screens, one with a cool palette and the other much warmer.

The effect reminded me of the work of Ron Mueck, whose exhibition at the National Gallery I saw some years ago. He currently has a small exhibition of four works at the Hauser and Worth Gallery in London.  This was reviewed by Brian Appleyard in the Sunday Times the weekend before the lecture.  Mueck’s three-dimensional naked figures are incredibly detailed (he was a Hensen puppet-maker) but are usually much larger or smaller than life – and they change our perceptions. 

Appleyard discusses Mueck’s ‘realistic creatures’ in comparison with the current major Damien Hirst exhibition.  He says some critics see this hyper-reality as lacking: ‘I just don’t think you see enough art’ (Jonathan Jones). Although Appleyard doubts whether many artists go beyond the superficial in conceptual art, he says that Mueck gives ‘the sensation of something beyond or beneath’. 

I recollect a similar effect from the work of Clive Head’s landscapes: what looks like photo-realism he would argue is nothing of the sort. The view you get is one you would never get with any camera lens and is a recreation based on reality – often a cubist effect without the abstraction.

I certainly felt this change of perception with Andy Sands’ work – very much enhanced by the sense that this was very much a real body of work, taking us on a journey.  Defining art is a tricky business and you set yourself up to get shot down by theoreticians and practitioners, but the definition that works for me is: created with passion, driven by a vision, accompanied by the capabilities to realise that vision and with the capacity to move, or to change the perceptions of the viewer.  On this definition, Andy Sands’ work constitutes high art.

For those that did not attend on the basis that a) they are not interested in photography and/or b) they have no particular interest in the wildlife covered, I hope you will reconsider next time we can get Andy to come along. What we got on the night was a moving artistic experience which changed perceptions and created a new reality before the eyes and ears of the audience.


Chairman, Herts Visual Arts