Artist Interview: Alex Hirtzel on Creating a Buzz

by Cass Art

Discover why bees see patterns we can’t, taste honey produced in one of London’s eight Royal Parks and walk through a room full of flowers in The National Gallery. Between February 17 and 20, ‘A Right Royal Buzz’ exhibition will take place across three venues in London – Duck Island Cottage in St James’s Park, The National Gallery and Mall Galleries. The community arts project, led by The Royal Parks, aims to teach the public about the importance of pollination through the medium of art, and you can see the work created by the community at Mall Galleries.
We caught up with appointed artist in residence, Alex Hirtzel, to find out more about her residency. You can see her work on display at the cottage, normally closed off to the public, where Alex takes you on a journey she has called 'Plight of the Bumblebee'. 
What is it like to be the first artist in residence at St James’s Park London and how did it come about?
I keep pinching myself that I have been given this role! The residency was advertised widely and attracted a lot of attention. I sent a proposal about a subject I have loved all my life. It was flexible but ambitious, I knew that the Royal Parks, along with The National Gallery and Mall Galleries would have the scale to accommodate a wide-ranging project. I had a lot of ideas about the science of bees and how flowers attract bees and other pollinators, which I knew would work well in those spaces. I knew there would be a lot of competition, and I thought it was such a long shot, that I never even told my family I had applied.
What was your inspiration for the project?
I have always been drawn to scientific environments in my work. I had come across the work of Professor Beverley Glover at the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge where I had done some very exciting projects. She and her team have done ground-breaking work on how plants attract bees and how bees in turn see the plants – which is very different from the way we see them: it is extraordinary and very beautiful. Ultraviolet light, invisible to humans, uncovers patterns on plants which draw bees to the source of pollen and nectar. These distinct patterns act as landing strips or arrows guiding them to the right spot.
What do you enjoy about collaborating with the community?
We have some very diverse groups of people joining in the project: under 5s, over 60s, families, 6th formers and two community engagement days. So for me as an art educator this was also a very exciting part of the residency. My aim has been to make it a lot of fun for everyone – and also to give people some take-aways to think about in terms of how important it is for us to support bees and provide them with good habitats, and things that each of us can achieve to do that even if all we have at home is a window box. 
Your practice is quite diverse, from painting and etching to block printing and sculpture. How do you choose the right tools for the job? 
I have to admit I have a voracious appetite for art materials of all shapes and types. I do not stick to fine art materials of course, but pick up bits and bobs from all over. I had a tutor who told me early on never to be hung up about the cost of materials, as it would stop one creating. The tools I use are the best I can afford at the time. Whenever I sell any artwork I try to put 50% of it aside for next art bill. My favourite paints are Golden acrylic, I love their translucency. I love good paper, big sketchbooks, I use the Seawhite landscape A3 with black pens such as the Faber-Castell Pitt Artists' Pen Wallet. I am lucky to have inherited a lot of studio equipment from my mother (Alison Musker RWS), for instance her huge art board. My kiln came second hand from an amazing couple 10 years ago, and I have just had it upgraded by Corby Kilns.
Feeling inspired? 
Find out more on the Mall Galleries website, take a look at the Royal Parks website or visit Alex’s website here.
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