Orlanda Broom’s paintings are unmistakable. Her landscapes portray steaming jungles of vegetation, full-on nature with colours vivid enough to make a Fauvist blanch. Leaves and stems swirl, shoot and flow in this riot of hues that entice the viewer with their luscious intensity.
But hello? What’s this? Some of the leaves look a bit dry, on the point of dying. Others look a bit spiky or over-ripe. Why is this?
The answer lies in the exhibition’s title, Ambiguous Nature, as Broom explains. “I’m trying to capture the beauty of the landscape and conveying my love and wonder of that but at the same time these places I’m painting quite often have elements of darkness to them. They’re not just aesthetically pretty and decorative, there’s a bit more meat there. What is that about? I think it’s a growing concern I and most people have about our impact on the environment.”
To emphasise these darker elements, The Death of Grass, with its wilting leaves, is based on a 1950s dystopian novel of the same name. There are cities in our world which, after they’ve been abandoned for whatever reason, become completely overgrown as Mother Nature strikes back. There’s a strong sense of nature’s power in Broom’s works but she leaves just enough ambiguity to keep you guessing.
“All of my paintings are timeless with no references to buildings or humans or animals, so in a sense they could be post-apocalyptic in a way where nature has re-asserted itself and there’s nothing but nature, just flora, and it’s a re-birth of such or is it the beginning?”
Along with the hyper-realism of the paintings is a sense of high humidity. Broom gives her landscapes a high gloss by painting layers of resin over the acrylic. For The Death of Grass she has used varnish to give it more texture.
Exoflowers, above, shows a kind of extra-terrestrial Day of the Triffids-like plants named after an exoskeleton. She imagines them as armoured warriors. Though Broom is a lover of botanical art and has amassed a collection of botanical books, her flora are her own invention, adapted shapes.
It’s not obvious from the image here but when you see the painting for real you will notice she has used glitter in parts of the work. “You have these pretty, sparkly areas almost like minerals in rocks but I think it’s quite a brittle painting in a way. I like the fact that it’s got these pretty elements in it yet it’s not a pretty painting. I think it’s quite meaty with a sub-text to it.”
As with so many artists in whatever field, Orlanda Broom has no full idea at the start as to how her paintings are going to turn out. This is particularly so with such as Exoflowers where she has poured the paint in sections of it. The paint therefore takes its natural course, mirroring the way plants do if left to their own devices.
She has even less idea about how a number of abstract works will turn out. There are a few on show and sale among the 33 landscapes. For these, the artists uses the same acrylics, tints and resin but uses no tools in the process of making them, just the manipulation of the paint can and allowing the colours to merge and pool together.
The mottled effect you can see in Sitter is caused by the mixing of resins that meet at different temperatures. The process is hit and miss, sometimes it works, sometimes not. “My landscapes are very gestural, they’re all about mark making, how the paint works, whether the surface is matte or runny or whatever,” says Broom. “But this is so different, almost the opposite way.”
Ambiguous Nature serves as both a celebration of nature but as a warning too. It can be seen at the Sunny Art Centre, 30 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8HR
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.