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Monday, April 4, 2016

Seed Art

Seeds from all around the world and all around the color wheel.
(Okay, blue seeds are kind of rare.)
A sampler of earth tones.
As fairly traditional artists using fairly traditional media, we have a tendency to narrow our creative focus to our chosen art form--drawing, painting, sculpture, etc. One of the things I've tried to do in writing about the broadest possible world of art is to bring to light as many non-traditional types of art as possible. I like to think I've hit about all of them, then realize, to my dismay, that a few have slipped through my literary fingers which, by all rights, shouldn't have. Some of them, in fact, have been around, relatively unnoticed, longer than I have. That's fine, I'm relatively unnoticed too. One, for instance, I call seed art for lack of a better term. Such art is sometime called "crop art." It is, of course, a branch of mosaic art, which is alive and wells and still going strong after two or three thousand years. One of the major reasons for this is that mosaics usually employ stones, glass, or tiles, all quite permanent and resistant to the many trials and tribulations art must endure on a millennial basis. Naturally, that's not the case with seed art. Seeds are, in fact, designed by God to die in order to regenerate the plants from which they came. In preventing this regeneration, artists can dry and seal the seeds from the all-important moisture which starts the germinating process Yet even that does not allow the permanence of tile, glass, and stone.

Although you wouldn't usually think of seeds as lending themselves to portraiture, a
surprising number of artist have taken to pushing them in that directions. Manick Sorca
is one of them, as seen in his seed portrait of President Obama.
Seed beads have a glistening, jewel-like
quality natural seeds cannot match.
I think I should pause right here to explain a persistent, confusing factor in discussing seed art. I'm not talking about seed bead art. Though the two art forms bear some resem-blance, seed beads are manmade. The seeds making up seed art are not. Seed beads are often used in fashioning jewelry to be worn. Natural seeds usually don't lend themselves to such creations lest they invite a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. An example of seed beads is illustrated on the right. An example of seed por-traiture, a persistent genre in seed art, can be seen in Manick Sorca's amaz-ing portrait of President Barack Obama titled Seed of Hope (above).

The color value range with seeds, especially those suitable for flesh tones,
makes seeds quite versatile in producing fairly natural looking portraits.
Vintage Seed catalogs are
as colorful as what they sell.
Seed portraits are not limited to presidents. Country singers, pop stars, Vulcans, and Frankensteinian monsters are also eligible (above). In this regard, seed mosaics could also be seen as a technique of pointillism, as in painting, and as sharing design elements with textile arts such as needlepoint. Seed mosaic images are created by affixing seeds, to a sturdy background. The Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota, is one (extreme) expression of this art. The Corn Palace was first built for the 1892 Corn Exposition. Outer walls of the building were (and still are) covered in murals made from multi-colored ears of corn. There is even a "Crop art" category at the Minnesota State Fair dating back to 1966, allowing artists to win prizes for their work. Rules for entry of Crop art allow "only seeds from Minnesota-grown farm crops or cultivated garden flowers, fruits, and vegetables," with no wild plant seeds permitted. Seed mosaics also make an ideal, quite inexpensive, medium for teaching young people mosaic art (below), so long as the instructor can instill a ban on eating the art materials.

Necessary supplies are limited to seeds, white glue, markers, and light cardboard.
Needless to say, not all seed art involves portraits and other familiar images. Very often seeds are used to present abstract, or geometric designs such as the one below in which subtle color variations replace more colorful seeds. Although it may be stretching the definition somewhat, we might also go so far as to say that seed art does not necessarily require seeds. As with nearly all types of art, the computer has also made its presence known in this type of mosaic art by creating "virtual' seeds. With the advent of 3-D imaging and printing as seen in The Seed of Life (bottom), by 3-D artist John Malcolm. Purists would cringe at the thought of computer generated "seed", not to mention any art created by such software. But then, purists tend to do a lot of cringing anyway.

I'm not familiar with this type of seed, but the design is vaguely familiar.

The Seed of Life, John Malcolm, 3-D digital artist.
Adam Reynolds, Minnesota artist, Minnesota State Fair.


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