Portraits red in tooth and claw

27th July 2001 at 01:00
Wild animals have been encouraged to make their mark in an extraordinary series of drawings and paintings, reports Judith Palmer

"If you're working with tigers, you can't sit and draw them all day. You might only get six seconds to get something down on paper," explain artists Olly Williams and Suzi Winstanley.

To speed up the process, the pair work together - crouching over a single sheet of paper, simultaneously adding their own elements to the same drawing until neither knows which marks were made by whom. The resulting paintings and drawings are raw and spontaneous, sometimes capturing no more than the tilt of an ear and the gape of a jaw before their subject has disappeared into the bush.

Olly and Suzi create their animal portraits in the wild and at close quarters - often in extreme environments. Like old-style adventurer-explorers, they trek with their paints and pencils through deserts, plains and jungles and across Arctic floes in search of polar bears and lions, tarantulas and anacondas. "We paint all those scary species children love," they admit.

The fleeting lines of their drawings convey the immediacy of the moment and the untrammelled vigour of the animals' movements. But they also emphasise the uncertain existence of species surviving on the margins of extinction.

Olly amp; Suzi Untamed, a major presentation of the artists' work at the Natural History Museum, in London, preserves the impromptu quality of this process by interspersing their drawings, videos and paintings throughout the museum's existing exhibits. You can track down pictures of gliding stingrays in the marine invertebrates galleries, turtle portraits among displays of reptilian carapaces and sketches of clamouring wild dog packs next to cases of their taxidermied cousins.

Documentary photographs by Greg Williams reveal the most bizarre element of their method. Each animal is shown its portrait and encouraged to sniff, scratch or nibble the paper.

Suspended across the exterior of the museum along Exhibition Road, a 10-metre colour photograph shows a great white shark rearing out of the waves, teeth glinting as it rips its watercolour to shreds. Presented alongside the museum's animatronic Predators exhibition, which opened last month (Friday magazine, July 13). Olly amp; Suzi Untamed is supported by a full programme of free educational events throughout August, including mask-making, meet the scientist sessions and music and performance workshops. Wednesday evening talks with the artists start on September 12. Olly amp; Suzi Untamed, until May 6, 2002. Information and booking on: 020 7942 5555; or www.nhm.ac.uk Dale Chihuly's flamboyant contemporary glass sculptures, on show at the neighbouring Victoria amp; Albert museum, would be equally at home in the Natural History Museum's marine galleries. Chihuly has created huge, wavering, organic shapes mimicking striated anemones, corals and tropical sponges, each rippling in whisperingly fluid forms as if lifted and swayed by some ocean current. Shafts of multicoloured light filter through a glass-ceilinged passage which leads to the museum's Pirelli Garden. Here, more Chihulys spring up as glass bulrushes or nose through the ivy as the nodding heads of mossy spore capsules swelled into triffid-like proportions. Until October 21. Education services: 020 7942 2197; www.vam.ac.uk Liverpool Central Library holds free craft courses every Wednesday until August 29, featuring paper marbling, book-binding and calligraphy. Tel: 0151 233 5858.

The Art of Regeneration, an urban regeneration project for the London borough of Lewisham, based around a four-year programme of creative activity, kicks off with a summer arts college for 13 to 17-year-olds at Lewisham College from July 30 to August 17. (Details: 020 8692 0231, ext 276). Organisations involved include Laban Centre, National Theatre and Emergency Exit Arts.

Emergency Exit Arts is staging an open-air pageant this summer. The free night-time fiesta, Runga Rung (from the Hindi "colourful colours"), combines Bollywood film and dance, Caribbean carnival costumes and continental street spectacle, and features a human catherine wheel, a rotating solar system, puppets and a singer performing atop a life-sized steel elephant. Catch it outside the Royal National Theatre, London, July 28 at 10.15pm; or at Stockton International Riverside Festival, High St, Stockton-on-Tees, August 5 at 9pm. Tel: 01642 358 500 or visit www.festival.co.uk

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