"Botanica" exhibition at Stanford University

Written by Robert Buelteman 11 March 2016

Stanford Art Spaces is pleased to announce complementary solo shows by two exciting Bay Area artists, Robert Buelteman and Eric M. Gordon, who make stunning color photographs without using cameras. Botanica by Buelteman of Montara and The Widening Gyre by Gordon of Palo Alto (ericmgordon.org) are installed in the David Packard Electrical Engineering Building and the Paul G. Allen Building on the Stanford campus, and run from March 14 to May 12, 2016.

Botanica, Robert Buelteman’s exhibit, features color photographs of plants unlike anyone else’s. They are made, not with a macro lens in the field, but in the solitude of the darkroom, blind, so to speak, since the results of the artist’s process are not completely predictable, even given Buelteman’s years of experience. In 1999, Buelteman, an established landscape photographer, sensed that “my future would look like my past if continued to follow the path I was on” and decided to abandon black and white film, cameras and even computers. He reinvented the photogram, to pursue ”dreams in which I saw extraordinary visions, images of life itself.” By placing plant cuttings atop sheet film resting atop a conductive metal plate and adding a second electrical charge, Buelteman opened a universe of hallucinatory botanical life. High-voltage corona-discharge photography originated with Semyon Kirlian in the USSR in 1939, achieving a certain new-age mystique in the 1970s, but Buelteman dismisses talk of plant souls and parapsychology, seeing them as the startling but scientific collision of electricity, chemistry and optics. 

In 2006, I wrote, of his solo show at the Peninsula Art Museum, that he “manipulates scientific procedures intuitively, creating metaphors, part thing and part symbol, for life in all its transient pyrotechnic glory.” The art critic Robert McDonald characterized Buelteman’s universe as “the natural ubiquitous, lushly erotic zone of plants…from the subtle to the dramatic, from the modest to the flagrant, from the virginal to the sinister, … stratagems for the perpetuation of their species…. The theatrical glory of these images … [makes them] songs of life—quartets of art, science, imagination and skill.” Botanica, which refers not only to plant life but to their medicinal and even psychotropic uses, comprises images from Buelteman’s first series, Through the Green Fuse (1999-2003) (after a Dylan Thomas poem); Sangre de Cristo (2003-6), made during a residency at the Santa Fe Institute; and Rancho Corral de Tierra (2002-9), made in the 4000-acre wilderness preserve in San Mateo County.

-Dewitt Jones




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