Germinating: Their art transforms nature

Most people just sweep them off the sidewalk. But for Sara Crisp and Fleming Cunningham Lunsford, two artists sharing space this month at the Second Street Gallery, Nature’s detritus– seeds, leaves, petals, grass– are the raw materials of art.
Don’t assume that this exhibit could double as a natural history museum attraction, though. In both artists’ work, seeds and grass are only the starting point. What makes their work interesting is how they mediate these natural materials– how they multiply and abstract them through an unconventional photographic process, as is the case in the work of Lunsford, or bury them under layers of wax and stain, as does Crisp. The finished work is a monstrous hike beyond anything you might find lying on a nature trail.
Lunsford begins her work with the camera, taking magnified close-up shots of petals and grass. She then tears her resulting photos apart, removes the emulsions, and presses them to a sheet of paper in a loose approximation of a grid. The emulsions, once pressed to paper, look like tiny flags or squares of delicate paper, wrinkled and bent as if by the wind. The process leaves some aspects of the plant matter intact, even exposed, as with the clearly discernible, veiny flesh of “Acer rubrum (Maple Helicopters).” But save for the naturalists in the room, most viewers aren’t going to be able to identify the plant life in Lunsford’s abstracted work.
Conversely, Crisp actually incorporates the natural objects in the work. Her ferns, poppies, antler fragments and even a rattlesnake skeleton are set in thick milky wax and left suspended in picture-windows in the center of each work. These windows account for only a small percentage of surface area; Crisp surrounds them with layered panels, covered in what appears to be a dark wood stain, and cut in geometric patterns: in a grid, as on graph paper, or in symmetric pinwheels. The stain coupled with the windows gives the work an almost cabinet-like display-space appearance. And certainly, Crisp looks to contrast the natural, uneven shapes of her seeds, leaves and bones with the even, mathematical designs cut into the face of her work. 

At the Second Street Gallery, Sara Crisp and Fleming Cunningham Lunsford’s “Flora & Fauna,” multi-media art with a botanical theme. Through September 29.  201 Second. St. NW.  977-7284.

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