Part art book, part botanical curio, Strange Plants is a visual compendium of artists working in the field, so to speak, of plants. For this collection, edited by Zio Baritaux, eight artists whose work focuses on plant life have been selected, creating a unique look into growing world––spikey, bulbous, filigreed and bizarre. An additional group of artists whose practice falls outside the leafy world were asked to create original plant-based work for the book. Seen through the eyes of artists like Stephen Eichorn, who uses botanical foliage in his collage-based work, or David Axelbank who creates mysterious, night-shrouded plant portraits, the natural world is revealed to be what we’ve known it to be all along––beautiful, dangerous and endlessly wondrous.
Here, Zio shares with us a bit about her process.
What was your inspiration in creating Strange Plants?
My biggest inspiration was my mother and her gardens. When I was growing up, one had water lilies in a koi pond, another featured a jacaranda tree that blanketed the ground in purple petals, and in another sat a petit parterre, with trimmed topiaries and low hedges of Japanese boxwood. But I didn’t really appreciate these gardens until I was an adult, living in an apartment in L.A. with no outdoor space or plants to call my own. There were plants throughout the neighborhood—like night-blooming jasmine and overgrown bougainvillea—but it wasn’t the same. I wanted to experience them. The plants inside my apartment—a hanging terrarium, a potted cactus, and so on. They brought back memories and inspired me, just like the art I had hanging on the walls. So it seemed natural to create a book that combined the two.
How did you select the artists you've chosen to include?
I selected artists for the book whose work I thought was genuine. I also made selections based on how an artist experienced plants and the instinctive and unique ways they represented them in their work. I thought about how each artist’s work interacted with the other works in the book. And I made a curated selection that fit together in a cohesive manner but also made sure things were varied enough to appeal to different people.
I viewed curating the book in the same way someone looks at planting a garden. You don’t plant a garden with one type of flower—you plant a variety of species that bloom at different times but work within the environment that you live.
Why do you think plants are making such a significant appearance in contemporary art at the moment?
Like me, most of the artist sprofiled in this book live in large cities -- from San Francisco to Stockholm and Seoul -- and I think this is a big factor. Plants remind us of our human nautre in the midst of a sometimes-sterile modern world, and insprire us with their colors and shapes. But this is true for artists from earlier times too. In the late 1800s, French Post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau was too poor to travel to the jungles that he dreamed of, so he would visit the Jardin des Plantes for inspiration. "When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands," he once said, "it seems to me that I enter into a dream."
Can you share a little about the book's design? How did you create the unique cover idea?
The book was designed by The Folch Studio in Barcelona. We collaborated on the concept and the ideas for the layout. One of the features in the book was supposed to mimic a vintage book of botanical illustrations, and this is where the ideas for the overall design came from; it was meant to be delicate, and present the images and words as living forms, in a clean and modern way.
To emphasize the plants, and inspire the feeling of pressing flowers inside a book, the cover images come as matte paper adhesives, which can be found as soon as the reader opens the book. It is the reader's choice if they want to leave the cover blank, or add one, two or all three images.