Nature comes to the fore in the works of Dutch artist, Herman de Vries (1931–), whose use of natural elements and materials brings the beauty of nature directly into his art. Born in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, de Vries had a background in agriculture and first completed a horticultural education before embarking on an art career in the 1950s, initially learning to paint. From this point on, his art has undergone constant developments, incorporating elements of nature and plants. De Vries often stylises his name as ‘herman de vries’ without capital letters to ‘avoid hierarchy’.
With nature in the foreground
Given his inspiration from nature, de Vries’s exhibitions generally feature vegetation and nature in numerous different incarnations. Samples of berries, plants, flowers, and wood are among the most widely used materials, and with their gentle colours and simple but rustic aesthetic, de Vries’s exhibitions possess a distinct, delicate and unique beauty. A circle of hundreds of damask roses arranged as a round, fragrant carpet, carefully shaped squares of differently coloured soil, dried driftwood, and rubbings of different types of soil from around the world, all framed in small, symmetrically arranged frames: de Vries’s works are like stepping into a natural setting, enveloping you in floral fragrances and gentle colours, yet at the same time controlled by a human hand and mind.
Justice for nature
De Vries is also known for criticising the felling of the Donar Oak (AKA Thor’s oak), a tree held sacred by Germanic pagans, but which was supposedly felled by the Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface in the eighth century. De Vries expressed his protest by planting a seven-metre oak tree on the banks of the Rhine in Düsseldorf, surrounding it with a golden palisade with a sign bearing the text ‘Wynfrid cut me down, Herman resurrected me’ in Latin. The work offers a critique of how ‘learned’ people neglect or ignore nature and what it means to those who inhabit it, a view of life which in turn reflects de Vries’s strong connection to nature and its incalculable value even to those people who are willing to reject it for their own gratification.