Misunderstood and overlooked, moths are unloved by most humans. They are unseen in the dark and dismissed as ‘dull’ in favour of their flashier, diurnal cousins: the butterflies. In reality, moths are more numerous and varied than we perceive them to be, and they contribute much to the ecosystem’s biodiversity. Sarah Gillespie’s gorgeous mezzotint works draw attention to the catastrophic depopulation of dozens of species of moths across Britain. Since 1914, over sixty varieties of the insect have become extinct in this country due to factors including loss of habitat, the use of pesticides, and light pollution. This could have serious knock-on effects, as these insects are remarkably important for the survival of many other animal species and for the pollination of plants and flowers. Sarah’s work celebrates moths’ inconspicuous nocturnal lives, their exquisite diversity, and the poetry of their common English names. These prints are the culmination of an eighteen-month project of focus and attention on these vital but underappreciated creatures.
Sarah uses a mix of references for these mezzotints, both photographic and drawn, taken from her own moth trappings and from the museum collection in Exeter, near her home in Devon.
Mezzotint is a printmaking process that was most popular in the eighteenth century; it was the first method that allowed for tonal variations without a line or dot-based technique like cross-hatching. Sarah’s use of this intricate and difficult process expertly captures the soft, powdery texture of these minute insects’ wings, thoraces, and legs. Her work is a rare opportunity to see, in precise but aestheticised detail, the beauty of these creatures on a large scale. With these delicate mezzotints hung in the Eames Fine Art Print Room, the space is sure to feel like a giant nocturnal lair of these watchful and gentle beings.More on the project from the artist: “I didn’t choose moths – they arrived in search of me. Or, better put, they emerged over a period of years. In the summer months, they became ever more present, ever more insistent until there was no ‘choice’. They had come out of the night, with all their powdery fragility and found me… their fragile winged emanations speaking urgently of the dark, of the earth, of all it is we cannot see. So the question was, how to respond? I found in their short lives a glory that comes from participation in the whole complex, entangled fabric of life. And yet they are deeply unloved. There are few references to them in literature; even the Bible refers to them negatively: ‘Lay not up for yourself treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt’. The work of artists and poets has always been to awaken our attention, to show what is unseen, to love what is unloved. That work feels urgent now. Modern life may be brightly lit but our attention to the lives of so many creatures has largely slept, and the damage has been enormous. Some species like the well-known Garden Tiger, whose caterpillars are the main food of our much-missed cuckoos, have fallen by 80% or more. We have to start opening our eyes. So, this is my response, my rebellion. If what I have been given is the ability to focus, to pay attention, and if there is even the remotest chance that in attending lies an antidote to our careless destruction, then that’s what I have to do – to focus. It’s not enough but it’s necessary”. – Sarah GillespieTo view our online catalogue for Sarah Gillespie | Moth please click here
At a glance in the Print Room | Sarah Gillespie | Moth