Plants to dye for at Dunmow exhibition

Picture: Shabnam Shabaz

Picture: Shabnam Shabaz - Credit: Archant

Those living in Dunmow may know Nabil Ali by his extraordinary palette, for which they donated their discarded eggshells last year.

The Colchester-based visual artist also used stinging nettles to create green, and black stinging stalk for the third shade in his palette when he was the artist in residence at St Mary’s Riverbank.

Now the 44-year-old is using a 14th century handbook to source and create an extended array of plant-based shades for his exhibition ‘Portrait of An Artist’s Garden’, which runs from October 4-18 in St Mary’s Church.

“The project involved deep research,” he said. “There were about 20 plants that I’ve found from the manuscript,” he said, referring to the Montpellier ‘Liber Diversarum Arcium Art’, which an associate translated for him from Latin to English.

“I grow the plants in my studio in Colchester or I go out and collect them in the wilderness. I’m very conscious of the environment. I’m thinking further afield than just plucking the plants themselves,” he said.

Madder, weld and wode are three dye plants he considers particularly embedded in our past. “Weld is a very famous dyeing plant from England, it’s been part of English history for 400 years,” he said.

Nabil has been working with plants for the last 10-12 years, and links research into ancient plants and paints with a modern aesthetic, through photography and documentation.

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“My work is ongoing – it leads to other developments. It’s about seeing beyond the canvas,” he added.

Workshops, such as the upcoming Drawing in Dunmow Big Draw Day on October 18, enable Nabil to show what lies beneath the paint – or in this case plants. “It’s a hidden world which is normally only seen by the artist.”

Nabil will be at the exhibition opening on October 4 at 3pm. The exhibition is open from 10am-5pm daily, except when church services are taking place. More information can be found on Nabil’s website: Admission to the exhibition is free.