Settled atop a bookshelf or a window’s ledge, the terrarium, a 19th-century construct, still functions today as a delightful wunderkammer for exotic species of plants. These tiny landscapes, captured in glass globes and vases, are dry ecosystems in miniature, the environments of which can be hospitably designed for the plant life of any climate. Known for her verdant, dioramic tableaux that home in on the form, texture, and color of vegetation, Nashville-based artist Kelly S Williams has turned to the terrarium as her newest subject, which she examines in a series of canvases on view now at David Lusk Gallery.
Williams has imagined her compositions somewhat scientifically, or at least according to the guidelines set for the amateur horticulturist: “First, determine your light source; find your vessel; then choose your plants,” she explains in the press release for the new show. Her naturalist paintings, some of which are even made to scale, bathe greenery in pale yellow daylight to produce luminous vitrines ranging in form, volume, topography, and perspective. A soothing palette and careful shadowplay alternately dissolve and reflect the glass encasing her subject matter, drawing the viewer into her compositions at different depths. Various impressions of loosely rendered or sharply articulated stems, stones, and blooming leafy matter—in the soft glow of a tilting succulent, smooth sheen of white pebbles, or pale flesh of a tender orchid bulb—keep the viewer looking, to marvel at the wonders of the natural world, and their translation into lush passages of paint.
“Kelly S Williams | Life Science” is on view at David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, June 3rd–28th, 2014.