Chris van Niekerk is a horticulturist turned professional floral designer and botanical conceptual artist. His current work, which he dubs Ecoskeletons, draws attention to the beauty and intricacy of insects and their crucial role in maintaining life on earth.
“Humanity is destroying insect biodiversity at an appalling rate. My intention is to create awareness.”
His miniature sculptures are based on his background degree in horticulture with entomology as a subject, and urged on by the ticking time bomb of species destruction.
“Insects are by far the most varied and abundant animal species on the planet. They’re also absolutely critical to the survival and functioning of every ecosystem including ours.”
In the past three decades, close to a third of all land-dwelling insects have been wiped out through habitat destruction, pollution, and the use of chemical pesticides. It’s a biodiversity holocaust. Far more serious than merely nights without cricket song - which thought alone chills the blood - the extinction of insect species threatens the continued existence of all life on earth.
His career creating large-scale botanical installations with fresh flowers has evolved into working more and more with preserved plant material. “It happened by serendipity. I was invited to a master class in Belgium where I was mesmerized by the amount and variety of preserved plant material they use in Europe. I’d always had an ethical problem working with fresh flowers. I once had to do a wedding using 40 000 pink roses that were dumped the next day. I took them to a horticulturalist friend for his compost heap, but it was awful. After that trip to Belgium I started experimenting with dried Protea and Fynbos in my own work.”
While his botanical architecture is in demand in the design and interiors world, his Ecoskeletons are more intentional. Working with preserved material, he creates the pieces in fine detail by meticulously shaping leaves, seeds, roots, bark, thorns and other botanical matter into realistic looking sculptures that are slightly larger than life.
“I don’t aim to create taxonomically correct specimens. My work is an organic process of combining botanical matter in a way that blurs the line between naturalism and illusionism to create a unique form of art. I think I’ve now really found my true path.”