Born in Luanshya, Zambia in 1975, Nick Jeffrey grew up in some of Africa’s special wild places. Childhood adventures on the Kafue and Zambeze rivers, and weekend trips into South Luangwa valley and the ‘Bvumba’ (mountains of the mist) in the Eastern Highlands, Zimbabwe have left indelible impressions on the artist’s mind.
“My greatest inspiration is nature. I love being amongst it, observing it, waiting patiently to learn from it, hoping for it’s secrets to be unveiled. An intimacy with the natural, … wild world is our greatest gift, and especially now in a world increasingly trying to divorce all of us from it.”
This experience is central to his creation of original artworks. Nick has set out to celebrate part of the intricate beauty of the natural world and promote the conservation of its fragile resources.
Now nearly 16 years ago, whilst filming Atlas moths circling above the conservatory ponds at Syon Park, Jeffrey grasped a moment of inspiration and realised a gift for a friend. This was to merge the meticulous skills of entomology with the dynamics of reflection to recapture a moment caught on camera. Otherwise it was lost in the blink of an eye. Requests from family, friends and new enthusiasts for these delicate and beautiful artworks grew to become the full-scale art forms that Jeffrey creates today.
Over the years Jeffrey has studied and recorded butterfly species, and worked with scientists and local communities to inform his work. His creations celebrate the colours, textures, rhythms, and patterns found in the fleeting brilliance of nature. The result is breathtakingly beautiful, and the sheer scale of his work in some instances highlights the fragility of the creatures composed within the frame.
Jeffrey has travelled to Colombia, Bolivia, and Kenya specifically to source ethically farmed butterflies. He has also visited institutes of learning and butterfly breeding in the UK to further his learning of sustainable butterfly farming. In these different destinations he has taken a variety of inspiration – palettes, artistic styles, local fauna and flora – all interwoven into his final compositions and assemblies.
Jeffrey has purposefully sourced ethical butterfly breeders, especially those in the developing world, and embarks on collaborations considered to ensure that the specimens used provide incomes to local communities, and help to protect the environment through the conservation of their habitats.
With an established reputation as a British artist of real acclaim, in December 2009 Nick Jeffrey was appointed artist in residence at The InterContinental, Park Lane, London. The youngest British artist working in partnership with the hotel, Jeffrey’s artwork was shown alongside leading contemporary artists. In March 2010 a partnership was established with David Linley & Co., producing a spectacular butterfly drum table for Masterpiece 2011.
Jeffrey has also worked with furniture designers Michael Reed and Ivan Kulvik to produce other bespoke furniture pieces, including the artists’ beloved artwork ‘Entomology’; a unique complex of aesthetics and functionality.
In 2010, Jeffrey started a three-month residency with the Hospital Club, Covent Garden following his solo show at the Sladmore Gallery, Mayfair. Subsequent years have seen him exhibit significant new works and participate in many group shows, not least the London Art Fair, Plus Arts Projects, Masterpiece and PAD.
Jeffrey has been working with natural art forms since 2003, seeking out ways to bring the fragile beauty of nature to others through the use of skilled, hand made processes; traditional practices in danger of passing out of time and conceding to the new digital era.
He has worked with various skilled craftsmen to learn and ply the practice of several different traditional disciplines; cabinetry, gilding, casting, ‘gyotaku’ (Japanese term for fish rubbing), silkscreen and wood block printing, and now Collodion wet plate photography.
These learned handcrafted media combine beautifully with the traditional practice of entomology – delicate life-like preparation of the farmed insects mounted in the artworks – and his new Collodion wet plate series, employing a vintage photographic process, has once again produced a series of intriguing works.
About the work
Looking beyond the traditional entomologist’s displays, mounting the butterflies with flat, rigid wings in mahogany cabinets, Nick has developed new techniques to reveal his subjects at their most intricately beautiful. The artworks combine a mixture of materials carefully chosen to suit the subject and often taken from source such as local hard and soft wood, locally bred butterflies and other insects, line caught fish, and locally sourced flora; all ultimately combined with Perspex, resin, mirrors, and or painted backgrounds to deliver the work its contemporary and traditional context. Inspired by fifteenth century Italian art, Nick uses gesso and gold-leaf panels to create hand-painted floral scenes beneath the butterflies that glimmer and burn against the differing depictions of vine and tree blossom. Pieces such as Primera Luz are greatly influenced by Jeffrey’s visit to Japan in 2000 where he had the privilege of viewing the artistic treasures of different Japanese masters, and then by his especial trip to the Guimet Museum in Paris to see the complete range of silkscreen panels from the Shinto shrine, Kompira-San – a collection of paintings, prints and hand painted gold leaf screens which has only been open for public viewing twice in the last 1000 years. Each of the works demands immense care and patience. With painstaking attention the butterflies’ wings are relaxed open – prepared and carefully set in different wing spans – a technique which requires dexterity and skill, and which has taken several years to master. Following the tradition of generations of entomologists before him, Nick keeps a meticulous record of all his butterflies and has accumulated a vast photographic catalogue of the species he has worked with. The butterflies in every individual artwork are carefully recorded and each client is presented with a catalogued ‘species list’ of those used within the artwork. Over the last seven years, Nick has also explored the difficult hand-crafted art of casting organic objects into crystal clear resin. This unique, and difficult process has met with both triumph and disaster, but produced some stunning results and led to several collaborations with specialist cabinetmakers. For his latest exhibition, La Eterna Primavera, Nick has also taken time to explore the delicate process of wet-plate Collodion, with the help of a renowned Cornish photographer Nick Reader. This is a 19th-century photographic technique which Nick has used to record the ethereal beauty of his butterfly and insect subjects in evocative monochromatic wet plates.