Nature-inspired art brings joy to urban spaces

Nov 6, 2023 | News

Grey urban spaces are a fertile canvas for Catherine Borowski and Lee Baker’s vast nature-inspired artworks. Could they help re-wild the minds of those who walk past?

Catherine Borowski has always had an active imagination. As a child, she dreamed that the car park on her north London council estate would be transformed into a garden. The reality was quite different. “No one had a car, so it was empty, grey and depressing,” she says. Now a sculptor and event producer, Borowski has made it her mission to fill unloved urban spaces with flowers – albeit virtual ones.

She and her partner Lee Baker are the founders of , a project to install huge nature-inspired artworks into the urban landscape. “Where real rewilding isn’t possible, our goal is to inject the colour and diversity of nature into rundown spaces, urging people to notice – and find joy in – the world around them,” says Baker.

The pair believe that flowers possess serious powers, even when they’re not real. “We know that spending time in nature is good for us, but studies show that even pictures of plants have a positive effect on the mind,” says Baker. He cites research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which found that imagery of plants in hospital waiting rooms can help reduce feelings of stress in patients.

Baker, a painter and music producer, has long understood the benefits of biophilic design. Having suffered a breakdown 10 years ago, he found that drawing flowers was the only way to soothe his buzzy brain. “I would set out to draw dystopian landscapes, representative of my state of mind, but I’d always end up drawing flowers, which uplifted me,” he says.

It was around this time that Baker met Borowski, joining her production company as creative director. The pair have collaborated ever since, launching Graphic Rewilding in 2021. Since then, they’ve installed floral murals at locations including Earl’s Court station, Lewes Castle and Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush – all hand drawn by Baker.

“We love galleries, but we focus on public art,” he says. “This way, our work is out there for everyone to enjoy.”

Grey urban spaces are a fertile canvas for a duo’s vast nature-inspired artworks. Could they ‘rewild’ the minds of those who walk past?

‘The joy these artworks bring is palpable,’ Baker told Positive News. Image: Harry Pseftoudis/BBC Earth Experience

This year the pair have grand plans to create a series of stained glass pavilions (think greenhouses with colourful floral-themed panels), which they hope might find homes at Kew Gardens and the Eden Project. “The way light shines through the glass is magical,” says Borowski.

Even so, they concede that art is no match for Mother Nature. “Some people have suggested that our project detracts from real rewilding efforts. But both can co-exist,” says Borowski. “Of course we want more green spaces.” adds Baker. “But we aren’t gardeners. We’re artists. In the absence of nature, we want to create inspiring spaces through art.”

‘In the absence of nature, we want to create inspiring spaces through art,’ says Baker. Image: Mark Cocksedge

Overall, the response has been hugely positive. “The joy that these artworks bring is palpable,” says Baker, highlighting an early project in Crawley, West Sussex. “Many people in the town were employed by Gatwick airport and Covid had taken its toll,” he recalls. In a bid to spread some joy, the duo painted brick walls, billboards, benches and even bins with their signature floral flair. “Peoples’ reactions were heartwarming. There were so many smiling faces,” he says.

Elsewhere, in Earl’s Court, the pair transformed “a ratty piece of tarmac” into a modern-day pleasure garden, which is now often filled with children dancing and doing cartwheels on the way home from school. “Putting art into a place that previously felt unloved feels like cultivating joy where there was none,” reflects Borowski. “If something like this had been installed on my estate when I was a kid, it would have been a dream come true.”

Main image: Sean Pollock

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