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Lyon professor’s botanical art exhibition to open Nov. 21

A Lyon College professor will have his botanical photo series featured in the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

“Refugia: Photos by Ian Campbell” opens this Thursday, Nov. 21, with a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibition runs through Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020.

Assistant Professor of Art Ian Campbell used organic materials and photographic developing processes to create semi-abstract images of flora he observed during his artist residency at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center in the remote woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in June 2018.

“I knew they didn’t have a full dark room at the residency,” Campbell said. “They just had a closet with a sink, so I knew I would have limited resources but plenty of plants and sunshine to work with.”

He decided to create pieces through lumen printing since the process does not involve a lot of excess equipment. He took a piece of light-sensitive photo paper, put plants on it, and then exposed it to sunlight.

“The sunlight is what makes the colors shift and the image appear,” Campbell said. “The exposure takes anywhere from a couple of minutes to all day. Depending on how long you leave it out, you can get different colors.”

Campbell said he chose the subject of flora because he is interested in “the dialogue between contemporary photography and historical photographic practices.” 

“Early photographers, like William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins, were fascinated by photography’s ability to do something on its own,” he said. 

“I like the idea of nature making its own portrait. I try to keep my hand as invisible as possible in the process and let the plants, chemistry, and sunlight work their alchemy.”

He enjoys how unpredictable the process can be.

“Part of the thrill is that you can discover something new. It’s not about going out and capturing something; it’s more about being open to whatever the piece wants to do.”

Campbell has even introduced his Art 101 students to lumen printing.

“I have them get into the dark room and make one of these themselves,” he said. “It’s low-tech enough that you don’t have to have any art experience to do it. It’s always exciting and rewarding when they get a beautiful vibrantly-colored piece at the end.”

The Kline Family Foundation sponsored Campbell’s exhibition, as well as “Metalpoint: A Classic Artform, by Marjorie Williams-Smith” in the gallery next door.

“She does botanical prints as well, but hers are drawings instead,” he said. “This exhibition is a great opportunity.”

While he has shown the work a few places before, this exhibition will feature almost the entire series.

“There will be 24 prints on display,” Campbell said. “When I was in the forest making these prints, I was feeling overwhelmed by how many different types of plants there were.”

“This exhibition will kind of replicate that feeling with a bunch of prints going down both walls. I’m looking forward to it.”

Lyon College is a private liberal arts college in Arkansas. The oldest college in Arkansas with its original charter, Lyon is located in Batesville, a historic town of 10,000 named by USA Today as the best city to live in the state. Listed among Forbes “Top American colleges," Lyon currently enrolls almost 700 undergraduate students, and 99 percent of its graduates are employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation.