Field work: Zadok Ben-David, ‘Natural Reserve’ at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Art emergency! If you are planning – or even vaguely considering – a visit to Kew Gardens over the next week or so, make sure you take in its current exhibition: ‘Natural Reserve’, the latest show from Zadok Ben-David.

I first came across Ben-David’s art through being a Peter Gabriel fan. Even since his early days as Genesis frontman, the visual side of music performance has clearly obsessed Gabriel, so his interest in fine art comes as no surprise. For his 1992 album ‘Us’ (masterpiece, I assure you), he commissioned an artist to create a piece for each track, and Zadok Ben-David’s contribution accompanied the third track on the album, ‘Blood of Eden’.

The collaboration went further when ‘Blood of Eden’ was selected for release as a single. Ben-David’s art appeared on the single sleeve, and he collaborated on the look and theme of the video with its directors, Nichola Bruce and Mike Coulson. I found it quite heart-warming that, 30 years later, Gabriel provides an introductory welcome quote for this exhibition.

For indeed, it is true: ‘Us’ is 30 years old. While the ‘Blood of Eden’ project must have been an ideal thematic match for Ben-David (the interconnectedness of humans with nature, on both micro and macro scales), it is fascinating to see some of those motifs recurring in ‘Natural Reserve’.

While Ben-David’s highest-profile work must surely be his outdoor sculpture, this exhibition – housed in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew, rather than the expanse of the Gardens themselves – allows us to focus on his indoor installations in exquisite detail.

I find that I respond most strongly to Ben-David’s art where it seems to intersect with graphic design and illustration. The latest work on display is directly influenced by images from Kew’s own archive of botanical art, and ‘case of curiosities’ installations call to mind the intricate beauty of line drawings from historical science and natural history tomes.

As befits its surroundings, the work’s environmental and ecological messages are clear. At the centre of the exhibition is the extraordinary ‘Blackfield’, a room-sized piece that transforms from thousands of plant silhouettes into a blaze of colour as you walk round it.

But equally dazzling are the smaller-scale pieces that repay patient, close appreciation of their construction, and caress the eye with reflections, optical illusions and more unexpected, vibrant hues. The hang enhances these effects, the modest light creating shadows that support the show’s darker sense of foreboding, however delightful the work itself.

Time is of the essence – I’ve only just made it to the exhibition and it is very late in the run (closing date is 24 April). With that in mind, I hope my swift photo-tour persuades you to go if you can.


The exhibition is free, although please note that there is an admission charge for the Gardens. The exhibition page, with a link to book Garden tickets is here:

(Photos in this post by AA.)

And if you’re an old prog fan like me, read or re-live the making of ‘Blood of Eden’ here:

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