Many artists throughout time have used nature as their muse. But it is less common to find an artist who literally uses nature in their art, rather than finding inspiration in the idea of it. It’s no surprise that Colorado-based artists fall into the former category more than others, since so much of Colorado’s esteem is based on outdoor pursuits.
Denver native Adrienne DeLoe thanks her Colorado upbringing for her appreciation and utilization of nature’s offerings. The art she creates uses seed pods, beetles skulls and other bones, among other natural elements to entrance viewers and remind them of the beauty, wonder and power of the natural environment.
“I spent a lot of time in the mountains as a kid, I did a lot of intense backpacking trips. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the Canyonlands [in Utah] and that’s my favorite place,” DeLoe reminisced, recounting the formative experiences that shaped her gratitude for the natural world. Her father was a horticulturist and DeLoe grew up in a renovated 1905 farmhouse in Edgewater (west of Sloan’s Lake) where she had a small plot of land in the backyard to grow vegetables and flowers. “I remember when I was six years old or so I started picking flowers out of the garden and using those to make pigments and paint with them,” she continued. “That’s always been my central theme, as long as I can remember — using elements of nature and creating nature-inspired artwork.”
Her nature-inspired artwork often features the carcasses of insects and other animals, which she beautifies with paint, paper clay molding or, in special cases, a homemade crystalization formula. Even though she is changing the aesthetic of the original piece, all of her choices are influenced by the natural setting where she found it or where it would normally be. For instance, when she is working with skulls and other bones, she tries to keep the bleached bone white as the main color. When she’s working with beetles, she incorporates the many colors that can be found reflecting off their hard-shelled exteriors in the background painting, amplifying their natural beauty. Each piece she creates, she considers a “micro-environment” where there is a feeling of growth, movement, evolution, even if everything is frozen in place.
DeLoe works as a full-time artist and jewelry maker, displaying her work at Next Gallery in the 40 West Art District — just a few minutes drive from her childhood home. But Deloe’s art doesn’t just reflect her love and familiarity with Colorado’s wilderness because she uses objects from all over the world. “About 10 years ago my husband and I quit our jobs and traveled the world for three and a half months. It was that trip that we went to New Zealand and the plant life, seed pods, and all the things I saw really solidified where I am now.” Though she tries to collect — or “wildcraft” — the objects herself, she can’t find enough on her own that follow her strict guidelines for taking. A major part of her creativity hinges on the desire to create in a sustainable way, with eco-friendly materials, and without leaving a huge impact in her wake.
“A lot of the things that have been found have been brought to me by my family and friends and sometimes complete strangers. My mother-in-law found a deer vertebrae on her property and she gave that to me,” DeLoe explained. Those vertebrae might have been tossed in the trash by another property owner, but DeLoe likes the idea of using the bones as artifacts, to preserve the beauty of that animal in a creative way. She also purchases insect bodies that come from farms in Asia that are designed to protect the diminishing numbers of species due to deforestation. Every time she starts using a different source for her objects — from bones to seeds to bodies — she does her best to research the most sustainable method or business.
Aside from securing the main objects in her work, another part of her practice that showcases sustainability is her use of non-toxic materials and water-based sealants. “I think it’s an individual choice [to be sustainable],” she commented. “If we can be conscious about what we’re using and what we’re putting out in the environment, that’s important, but it’s not always possible and I understand that. I think nature and our planet is this powerful force and I think we should have a healthy respect for that while at the same time taking a moment to really appreciate what we have here. I think the way we treat our planet doesn’t always reflect that. So it’s my intention to say ‘hey, look how beautiful everything is, but let’s be careful with it.’”
There is something fragile about the work DeLoe creates that embodies that sentiment of taking care of our natural surroundings and fellow creatures. Even though she often features crystals and bones — two materials that are known for lasting through time — the way she preserves them with glossy white clay or contained in a fancy frame makes the viewer realize their value and delicacy.
“As an artist, I think one of the most important things that we need to be is an observer. It’s impossible for me to be in any environment and not look at something and see the potential it has to become an amazing piece of work,” DeLoe described. “So I’m constantly looking, whether it’s out in the city or in a park or on a hike, I’m always looking for cool things. And I love the idea of preserving those things for posterity, of creating artifacts,” she added. “If I didn’t go to school for art I would have gone for archeology.”
Each piece she creates highlights the object in a way that is a celebration of its life. The beetles are posed with their wings outstretched as if they have just been captured mid-flight. The skulls and bones are added to with crystals and clay so that they don’t look as bare, as dead. These efforts ultimately hold the viewer in a world of DeLoe’s making, where nature and all its splendor is aggrandized, mysticized and made as magical as she has always seen it.
“For me, the idea behind it is that all of the struggles we go through as humans and all the things we strive for and all the conflicts we have mean nothing if we don’t’ have an environment. We need water, air, space, food, and that’s all provided by our planet. If we don’t have those things, what else can we have?”
DeLoe will have a solo show at Next Gallery (located at 6851 West Colfax Avenue) in September 2019. Follow her progress and more on Instagram.