Bugs: Beauty and Danger

Bugs revised flier

1 August – 5 December 2020

Nicola Bealing, Arno van Berge Henegouwen, Jeroen Eisinga, Claudia Fährenkemper, Sarah Gillespie, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, Aurora Sciabarra, Alison Turnbull.

Stop Press: read this great review in the Spectator 14.03.20, by Mark Cocker: ‘Mother Nature is Finally Getting the Art she Deserveshttps://www.spectator.co.uk/writer/mark-cocker

Bugs, Beauty and Danger is GroundWork gallery’s latest exhibition. It is about insects, seen through visual art. But nothing about insects is straightforward. For a start, there are so many different kinds – winged, crawling, hard or soft-bodied, nocturnal or diurnal, invisible, harmful, or beneficial. Not even specialists know everything about their survival, their habits, or even the extent of our interdependence with them. As the public our feelings are mixed – we love and fear insects – but they are so often regarded as pests. 

Alarming and scary, beautiful and delicate

Bugs, Beauty and Danger addresses our complex relationships with some of the tiny creatures without which the earth would not survive. At a time of increasing and deep threat to many common species, we need to celebrate the power of insects . Consequently, eight international contemporary artists are showing work about bees, beetles, butterflies and moths, through drawings, paintings, film, etchings, installation.

Sarah Gillespie poplar hawkmoth blue
Copies of Moth artworks 081019

In danger and becoming extinct

Bugs suffer the effects of climate change, pollution, pesticides, and our unthinking destruction. Consequently, 40% of insect species are declining and a third are in danger. Insects are going extinct 8 times more seriously than any mammals. This is very bad news indeed for the survival of all species, because bugs in all their variety create the earth’s infrastructure. Not only do they play an essential role in the chain of life which maintains the earth’s species balance, but also they have crucial relationships with soil, plants and animals. Bugs help to maintain fertility and health.

Buglife and bug health

The 8 international artists explore some of the intricacy and wonder of bugs, but also some of the fears we experience when encountering them. As part of our campaign, we are also collaborating with the invertebrate conservation trust, Buglife. Alongside the Borough Council, we are developing ideas and inspiration from the exhibition in order to improve the local environment for bugs. Here is an article in King’s Lynn’s Your Local Paper announcing our plans: https://www.yourlocalpaper.co.uk/2020/02/14/make-a-b-line-for-new-exhibition-and-project/

Once the coronavirus threat is passed, we will take this up again with enthusiasm.

Bugs Beauty and Danger, Nicola Bealing, Plague Locusts
Nicola Bealing: Plague, locusts

Beetles are good at adapting to different habitats. Furthermore, they help vegetation to decompose and they are useful in keeping down more harmful predators. Bees are among the best plant pollinators and without them, we would have few vegetables or fruits. Moths are also good pollinators, as well as being a food source themselves for a wide variety of other animals. Moreover, their caterpillars are an important food source for birds. We know, for example, that migrating birds can time their arrival to coincide with the availability of specific moth caterpillars.

We love and fear them – insects bug us….

Insects bug us – we fear their swarms and their stings. We are annoyed at the holes they make in our clothing. Their shiny carapaces make us scream. Harmful germs can be spread by insects. But our fears also contribute to their death and disappearance. Look up any insect on-line and the first thing you often learn is how to poison it. This is often because gardeners most often regard bugs as pests. So, a big aim for this exhibition and its artists, is to help us, the public, to make more careful observations. This is largely why we need to find out more about bugs, so that we can better appreciate their importance for the chain of life.

Artists and bugs – from spectacular to scary

Images in Bugs, Beauty and Danger, explore the full range of experience, from the spectacular to the delicate, from alarming and scary to beautiful.

Nicola Bealing’s large paintings of swarms of locusts, flies and cockroaches, open the exhibition. They immediately address some of our basic fears of the power of the masses, and of being engulphed.

Swiss scientist-artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger has made precise drawings, over more than 30 years to reveal how bugs have suffered deformities from nuclear fall-out.

Sarah Gillespie’s careful research in her own back garden has led her to capture the delicacy of moths. Her incredibly detailed mezzotints show us their beauty, but behind each one lies a tragic story of their danger, revealing how even common moths are under threat. Read more in our blog on the subject: Why we should worry about moths

Vladimir Nabokov was an inspiration for Alison Turnbull

Alison Turnbull, working partly from a garden in Norfolk, also studies moths, closely. Her reasons and her results are quite different from Sarah’s. Right from the beginning, she learned much from entomologist and writer, Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), so her work had quite a literary origin. Read more below.

Aurora Sciabarra has devoted many hundreds of hours to making a delicate bee swarm from wax and latex, because of her desire to make a tribute to the dwindling species.

In contrast, Jeroen Eisinga’s award-winning film ‘Springtime’, shows a swarm of bees settling on his face and head and torso. The film terrifyingly addresses some of his own deepest fears.

Claudia Faehrenkemper‘s ‘Imago’ series of micro-lens photographs portray beetle faces as ‘other’, almost appearing as a series of armour-like, science-fiction portraits. 

Arno van Berge Henegouwen brings us another science-art contribution. His remarkable and detailed insect photographs form stories to fascinate us with the detail of his observation.

More about the artists

Nicola Bealing

The exhibition opens with large oil paintings from Nicola’s series ‘Plagues and Swarms’, from 2014-15. The largest painting is about a plague of locusts, but seen from their point of view as the insects are looking down to the tiny people on earth.

Plagues and swarms

How many of us fear being engulfed by insects? Or perhaps, they might destroy our possessions, eating them to shreds. Most people have at least experienced moth damage to clothing and household textiles. ‘Hole in the Carpet’ addresses these fears directly, but in this case the damage is being caused by a huge swarm of cockroaches. Even worse!

Bugs Beauty and Danger. Nicola Bealing Hole in the Carpet, oil, 2014
©Nicola Bealing, A Hole in the Carpet, oil, 2014

There was a time when swarms of insects settled on car windscreens. Lately it has been the subject of much discussion, as it no longer happens. It is one of the clear signs of insect decline. Nicola’s painting ‘Long Journey’ shows the phenomenon in an extreme way. So many insects are sticking to a car windscreen that the passengers can hardly see out.

Nicola Bealing is based in Cornwall, where she has a studio at CAST. She trained 1983-7 at Hertfordshire and at the Byam Shaw, London. A winner of numerous awards, she is represented in public collections, including the British Museum, the Foundling Museum and the Jerwood Foundation. She is an Academician of the Royal West of England Academy. Nicola is represented by Matt’s Gallery, London. http://www.nicolabealing.co.uk/

Arno van Berge Henegouwen

Arno van Berge Henegouwen is a biologist and has worked in various museums, including Museon, the Hague.

He specialises in water and dung beetles, but he has also published on various popular science topics. Together with his colleague Ruud Hisgen, he has devised many temporary and permanent exhibitions in museums in Tilburg and The Hague. In the Museon they designed the renewed permanent exhibition ‘Your World My World’. He also developed the ‘Museonder’ for the Hoge Veluwe National Park in the Province of Gelderland, and renovated the Visitor Centre. Arno is passionate about education in relation to his scientific work on insects. Always a keen wildlife photographer himself, he brought the first, and then twenty-two following editions of the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ to The Hague.

Jeroen Eisinga

The award-winning film, Springtime (2009-11) is a self-portrait of the artist with a swarm of 250,000 bees settling on his head, shoulders and torso. The film like many of Jeroen’s works, is quite harrowing, taking to extremes his confrontation of his own fears. It explores the ‘danger’ aspect of Bugs Beauty and Danger. Nevertheless, in spite of initial shock, eventually we realise that the bees are not dangerous, but instead form an almost comforting coat around the artist’s body. Remarkably, he emerged from this experience only slightly swollen, and with hardly any stings.

Bugs Beauty and Danger, Jeroen Eisinga Springtime, 2009-11, detail
©Jeroen Eisinga, still from Springtime.

Jeroen Esinga lives in the Hague, Netherlands. He trained between 1993-2008 in art and film at Arnhem Academy of Fine Arts, the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam and later on at the screenwriting department of the American Film Institute Conservatory, Los Angeles. https://www.jeroeneisinga.com/

The Social Ladder

Much feted during his career, Jeroen has exhibited all over the world, won numerous awards, and has works in most of the major museum collections in the Netherlands. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam bought a copy of ‘Springtime’ for their collection. As a further accolade, In November 2019 he won the nationally important Hague Art Prize, which includes a solo exhibition  at the Gemeentmuseum, the Hague, Netherlands,. This was named after his early film, ‘The Social Ladder’, and at the same time a book was published, about his body of work. https://www.kunstmuseum.nl/en/exhibitions/jeroen-eisinga


We are very grateful to the Arts and Tech organisation Collusion for loan of the projector for showing Springtime.

Claudia Fährenkemper

The artist is showing a series of photo-micrographs, which like Jeroen’s work, but in a different way, focus on the danger aspects of Bugs Beauty and Danger. They are in effect, insect Portraits – which are extreme and dramatic close-up views of the heads of beetles and flies. As such, they address the combined qualities of beauty and grotesque.

Bugs Beauty and Danger. Claudia Faehrenkemper, Imago 04, 60x magnification, 2004
©Claudia Fåhrenkemper ‘Imago’

Living in Dortmund, Germany, Claudia initially studied art and geography and then trained and practised as a teacher. Then, she changed her career to study photography from 1989-95, with great teachers: Bernt Becher and Nan Hoover at Dusseldorf Academy of Art. https://www.claudia-faehrenkemper.com/ . This is not her first appearance in the UK, as in 2009 she was invited by Ros Stoddart to be artist in residence at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, Kettering UK. For Jan-Feb 2020, she had a solo exhibition at the Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, who are now her world-wide representatives.

Sarah Gillespie

Sarah Gillespie is showing a body of 14 works, mezzotints, about moths, which she has been studying carefully for a number of years. She is definitely on the ‘beauty’ side of Bugs Beauty and Danger. Yet her motivation has partly come from the desperately endangered state of Britain’s moths.

Bugs Beauty and Danger. Sarah Gillespie small phoenix moth
Sarah Gillespie, Small Phoenix Moth

Becoming extinct. ‘Moths are deeply unloved by most humans’

For over a year, Sarah has been studying moths in her back garden, but is dismayed to find that even common species are dwindling in numbers.

We are indeed in the middle of the sixth extinction of life on Earth, this one caused by human action. Since 1914 there have been around 62 moth extinctions in Britain alone.

Sarah Gillespie

She regards moths as much misunderstood, overlooked and deeply unloved by most humans.

As they exist largely unseen in the dark, they are dismissed as ‘dull’ in favour of their flashier, diurnal cousins, the butterflies. In fact, moths are more numerous and more varied, and hold vital roles for biodiversity in the wildlife ecosystem.

Sarah Gillespie

Sarah is a committed environmentalist, keen for her work to raise awareness of the intricacy and beauty of the natural world. She uses her skill as an artist to address our troubled relationships with insects in positive and creative ways.

Supreme attention to detail

The fact that the artist is a perfectionist shows in her contemporary interpretations of traditional methods. She is well known for her close observation and extreme technical ability. This results in a supreme attention to detail and finish. She trained as an artist at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford. Later, she acquired her knowledge of historical painting methods from the 16th and 17th century, in Paris at the studio of Patrick Betaudier https://www.sarahgillespie.co.uk/

Sarah Gillespie exhibits widely in the UK, often with Beaux Arts Gallery in London, and is an Academician with the Royal West of England Academy. Find out more by reading the in-depth interview of the artist made for this exhibition by writer Karen Eng: https://www.groundworkgallery.com/sarah-gillespie/

Sarah is also showing a body of work including the moths at Kestle Barton in Cornwall from 12 September – 31 October. Both the Guardian on-line and the BBC have drawn attention to the importance of her moth mezzotints to draw attention to the endangered plight of these delicate nocturnal insects.

Cornelia Hesse-Honegger

Cornelia works at the interface between art and science, testifying to the beauties of an increasingly endangered nature. Above all, her work most epitomises each of the underlying messages in the title of Bugs, Beauty and Danger. Describing herself as a ‘science artist,’ Cornelia worked for 25 years, as a scientific illustrator for the scientific department of the Natural History Museum at the University of Zurich.   From 1969 onwards, she collected and painted true bugs Heteroptera. Her intense observation shows how bugs can give us early-warning about the deeper dangers we face from low-level radiation.

Endangered: Nuclear fallout mutilates bugs

Since the catastrophe of Chernobyl in 1986 she has collected, studied and painted morphologically disturbed insects, mostly true bugs. Initially, she found them in the fallout areas of Chernobyl. Later her study extended to the neighbourhoods of many other nuclear installations. http://nautil.us/issue/14/mutation/why-i-traveled-the-world-hunting-for-mutant-bugs She is convinced that in places where the radioactive fallout hits ground, the vegetation is contaminated. Insects like true bugs are vulnerable to picking this up and become to a certain degree morphologically disturbed.

Bugs Beauty and Danger, Cornelia Hesse Honegger, Cicada, Fukushima
Cicada found at Fukushima which has lost its colour as a result of suffering nuclear fallout

As a result of her studies in many locations including Sellafield in the UK, she concludes that all nuclear installations are a terrible threat to nature. Their constant fallout causes deformities in true bugs Heteroptera. Today she and independent scientists can prove that even the slightest amount of radiation can cause cancer, illnesses, mutations and deformations. She has published many studies highlighting this issue. In order to demonstrate this evidence very clearly, she exhibits her watercolours and prints internationally in museums and gallerie . In the UK Locus+ in Newcastle first exhibited her works in 1996 http://www.locusplus.org.uk/artists/748~Cornelia+Hesse-Honegger

One fly at a time….

My work has allowed me to discover an aspect of nature by painting it. There is no other way I could have done it. I cannot learn and discover through reading or taking in prepared pictures. I can only discover something when I draw and paint it myself. There’s a German word for this style of research work: Wissenskunst or literally, “knowledge-art,” as opposed to Wissenschaft, which is German for science. Art has its own paths to discovery, its own ways of making the unknown visible, one fly at a time.

Cornelia Hesse Honegger, in Nautilus, article ref. below.

Aurora Sciabarra

Aurora Sciabarra is a visual artist whose practice spans the disciplines of painting, collages sculpture and installations.  She is of Italian origin, now based in Brighton and has previously shown with Onca Gallery, Brighton.

Aurora’s research is focused on the concepts of human need and how this relates to the choices available to us. Because of the over-production of consumer goods, we are prey to temptation to over consume. Through her work she investigates to what extent this kind of human agency can affect the environment. https://www.artqol.com/aurora-sciabarra

“Given that we live in an era of mass extinction and rapid ecological changes, to reflect on the kind of life one lives appears to be as common as inevitable, as it appears inevitable to question the anthropocentric vision of the world.”

Aurora Sciabarra

In a recent statement, she says:

“My work is based on a research interest in how environmental studies relate to consumer culture. The concepts of need and choice, alongside the exploitation of natural resources, change, exchange-of-value and conflict, are at the centre of the research. I look at the interaction between human and non-human dynamics. As a result, I question to what extent human being’s way of living will affect the earth.

‘Our insatiable activity of consumption compromises natural resources’

“The constant consumption and production of goods, on the one hand, and the depletion of natural resources on the other hand, creates a schizophrenic society. Ecological changes occur due to human beings’ insatiable activity of consuming. In doing so, they also compromise the natural resources (soil, water, sea, forest etc.) they ought to survive on……….My most recent works display unrelated-realities joined together. More precisely, I connect man-made objects with the natural elements as I want to re-present to my viewer’s eyes the co-existence of opposite realms close to one another. In doing so, I want to shine a light on the implications, as well as on the effects, of such closeness. The use of natural materials, such as beeswax, next to human-made ones (latex or chemical fertiliser etc.) is pivotal, to stress the co-existence of the two realities. ” https://www.artrabbit.com/people/aurora-sciabarra/artist

Alison Turnbull

Bugs Beauty and Danger, Alison Turnbull Coming to Light
Coming to Light, a new print about Norfolk moths, made by the artist for Bugs, Beauty and Danger

Born in Bogota, Colombia and living in London and occasionally in Norfolk. Alison Turnbull is showing a new body of works, paintings and photographs about moths and butterflies, a subject which has intrigued her for many years.

Bugs Beauty and Danger Alison Turnbull Peppered Moth
Alison Turnbull, the Peppered Moth, Archival Pigment Print, 2016

Alison’s interest in entomology began with a study of the remarkable story of evolution, the Peppered Moth (often known as Darwin’s Moth). This was for a project in 2008 with the Natural History Museum for the Darwin Centenary.

‘My moth trapping is most certainly benign – I am fascinated to observe them closely’

Alison’s ability to study the creatures closely, developed as she discovered benign moth trapping. She did this under the tutelage of Patrick Wildgust, curator at Shandy Hall in Yorkshire, where she had a residency in 2014. This resulted in a wonderfully named exhibition: ‘Like a Secret Spring in a Well-ordered Machine’. Entomology has taken her far and wide. In 2016 she travelled to the Pacific Rainforest, to Colombia, the country of her birth, to study butterfly species. She began coding their visual information and transforming them into abstract pattern and composition. As a result of that trip, undertaken with Natural History Museum scientist, Blanca Huertas, she made an artistic study and field guide. This was published as ‘Psyche, The Butterfly’ (obtainable from GroundWork in very limited numbers). Her discoveries there were also recorded in a wonderful radio programme in the series ‘Pursuit of Beauty’, for BBC Radio 4

Transformation of data into abstract pattern

Alison is an artist who transforms information from plans, charts, diagrams, blueprints into abstract paintings. These she makes vivid through colour and the worked surface. She trained between 1975-1981 at Bath Academy of Art, West Surrey College of Art and Design, and Academia Arjona, Madrid. A winner of numerous awards, she has work in many public collections and has exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions internationally. Matt’s Gallery, London represent her. https://www.mattsgallery.org/

Bugs Beauty and Danger, Alison Turnbull, Butterfly Barcode
©Alison Turnbull, Butterfly Barcode, 2018

Artist’s books

Bugs, Beauty and Danger also features a small and lovely selection of artist’s books by Chris Ruston and Alexi Francis in the gallery upstairs.

Chris Ruston

Chris Ruston is an artist based in Southend, Essex. Her work explores issues around our changing climate, often combining interests in history and storytelling. She seeks to express more than her personal story, connecting to wider issues and reaching out to broader aspects of life and the environment. Earth’s story is a constant thread through her work. She invites us to think about how the past, present and future come together. Initially Chris trained as a fine artist and has become known for her innovative approach to form and design of the artist’s book. https://www.chrisruston.com/

Of her work ‘Relic’, 2020, made for Bugs Beauty and Danger, a tiny moth sits in a hand-painted slip case, (and also available in the gallery on-line shop), the artist says:

‘I used the general recognisable shape of a butterfly as a symbol rather than a particular species. The burnt edges suggest what we are losing due to changes in climate and habitat. The use of a world index indicates this is a global issue rather than local.’

Chris Ruston

Alexi Francis

Alexi Francis is an artist, illustrator and writer based in Brighton, Sussex. All of her work focuses on nature. As she says: “Exploring artistic things – painting, illustration, dance and any other medium, keeps me sane as does escaping anywhere wild.” The artist has made a new range of books for Bugs Beauty and Danger. Her ‘altered books’ are made by inserting hand coloured and cut images in the centre of real second-hand hardback books.

Of her ‘altered book’ The Butterfly Tree, top left, the artist says: ‘The illustration is a tribute to the Monarch Butterfly, which famously migrates between North American and Mexico. At the time this book was being made two butterfly wardens in Mexico were killed, it is believed, by men working for the loggers intent on destroying their forest habitat for profit.’ http://www.alexifrancisillustrations.co.uk/