Gusta van Dobbenburgh – Where Art and Science Meet – 2 novembre – 21 décembre 2009

2 novembre – 21 décembre 2009


Gusta van Dobbenburgh   

Where Art and Science Meet  

 “Botanical illustration is a blend of science and art—it’s all about study and precision and yet one can’t help being inspired by the wonderful, lively forms of petals, leaves, stems and roots.”


As curator of the ELA exhibitions for the last three years, Gusta van Dobbenburgh’s name usually appears as curator in the byline for this column. For the upcoming show, Gusta is the featured artist and will be exhibiting a selection of her most recent botanical drawings and paintings. Born and raised in the Netherlands, she began drawing and painting as a child. Her interest in art continued throughout her youth and at university, where she pursued a minor in Art History along with her major in Language and Linguistics. She continued her language studies in the United States, taking a second Master’s Degree in Italian and Portuguese. Two decades of studying and working in the U.S. broadened her professional skills to include teaching, translating, interpreting, and curating. In 2002, Gusta returned to making her own art. She rigorously studied botanical illustration with internationally-acclaimed and scholarly experts before exhibiting her work, which in turn led to private commissions and entries in juried shows.


Arboretums and châteaux have been more typical settings for Gusta’s recent exhibitions. Her renderings of a diverse flora seem at home in high-ceilinged rooms, be they greniers or salons, displayed amidst interesting woodwork and furnishings. The ELA site presents a welcome challenge. Botanical drawings placed within this blend of art gallery and café will give people who meet, eat, read, or work in the space a chance to pause and take a breath. “I like serenity in my exhibitions so each piece will be hung with plenty of space around it. I want people to be able to absorb each drawing.”


Far from mere specimen renderings, Gusta’s work is luminous and playful. Using colored pencil, gouache, watercolor and graphite, she virtually pulls life out of the paper. “I see it taking shape under my fingers and it’s a magical thing!” It is very clear that she delights in form and texture; from the delicate transparency of a petal, to the unexpected twist of a stem, or the sculptural contours of a leaf, Gusta brings much more to this work than mechanical accuracy. Where art and science meet; with skill and passion botany is enlivened and beauty is the result. She follows a botanical illustration tradition of consistently lighting her subjects from the upper left, referring to it as “11 o’clock light.” Yet, there is another light source radiating from within these plant forms. They look so alive. Which is somewhat ironic since they have been cut, plucked or uprooted in order to be drawn. Although specimens may be replanted, often enough they are in the process of dying. Except in Gusta’s hands their life force has been captured on paper and so they will live indefinitely—suspended, evocative, and serene.


Sensual in her observations of the natural world, she chooses her subjects carefully and with an eye towards composition. A pumpkin vine is sitting in a glass of water on her dining room table. One part of the vine has a skinny green stem snaking away from a leaf stalk. Gusta’s hands dance in the air as she enthuses, “Look at this guy here, this fabulous little twisty tendril!” She approaches each plant form, each drawing, with joy, passion and wit. Underlying all this is a mastery of form, color, light and texture.


Facing a window looking east, Gusta’s drawing table is arrayed with sumptuous colored pencils, paintbrushes and a watercolor-daubed palette, an articulated metal gizmo with a magnifying glass and little clamps for holding plant specimens, a sketch-in-progress of an olive branch, tall dried blooms sitting in a vase, and a scattering of pine cones. When asked what she is going to draw next, Gusta eyes sparkle with delight as she pulls a batch of sandy iris bulbs out of a paper bag. Specimen numbers have been written unceremoniously in black marker on the green leaves that have been cut short, into a shape that resembles an upward-pointing arrow. Down in the heart of the bulbs energy is being stored for next season’s blooms. And Gusta can’t wait to capture this potential on paper.




—Sue Niewiarowski, freelance writer and book designer


« Where Art and Science meet »

A botanical collection in various media

by Gusta van Dobbenburgh

Date: November 2 – December 21

Vernissage: Thursday, November 5, 18h30 – 20h00

Official opening by Prof. Giorgio Margaritondo, EPFL Vice President of Academic Affairs

Place: EL Building, Room 010

Hours: Mo – Fri 8h45 – 17h00

Information:   Tel. 021 691 11 88