On June 1, Rise Above Gallery in Oakland will transform into the Garden of Eden. The full-immersion pop-up show, “Roses Are Red,” explores the relationship between botany and human culture. One of the transformers is Jane Kim, a 30-year-old L.A.-based science illustrator who hand-painted a ten-foot section of 15 intricately detailed roses that illustrate the flowers’ evolution from wild to domesticated plants, which drive a multi-billion dollar floral industry.
“For millennia, people have manipulated plants to suit our needs,” says Kim. “With this show, we wanted to provide an experience for people to enjoy a natural resource that has evolved side by side with human culture.”
The rare artist who wants her art to be “more of a tool than an end product,” Kim’s work crops up in unusual places. In early May Kim completed the exhibit, “Shark!” three graphite drawings of a tiger shark, leopard shark, and zebra bullhead now on display in the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. In June Kim will complete the installation of two giant murals depicting the food chain of a tiger shark in Portland’s Bamboo Sushi, the first certified sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. Next up is a mural on the evolution of birds, a 60 x 20-foot wall including more than 300 species, for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She estimates it will be finished sometime in 2015.
Inspired by science and the natural world, Kim’s focus changed after a four-month residency at the San Francisco dump. She worked there every day using discarded construction scrap to investigate how the sociological necessity of walls, and how we adorn them, can lead to destructive environmental processes.
“That gave me a purpose beyond art for art’s sake,” says Kim.
As a result, the Rhode Island School of Design graduate went on to pursue her master’s degree in Scientific Illustration at Cal State in Monterey Bay. Then she did a residency at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where she learned how to skin and stuff birds and use them as models for “The Handbook of Bird Biology.”
Kim’s eventual plan is to crisscross the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with her Migrating Mural project, for which she’ll paint species like the whooping crane and North Pacific blue whales on abandoned barns and public spaces along their historical migration routes. Kim is working right now with the California Department of Fish and Game to paint five murals of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep along the strip of highway between Mono and Owens Lakes.
“The mural can just grow and grow from there,” says Kim, who recently started her own design studio, ink-dwell. “How neat would it be to have an international mural that matches the evolution of human migrations?