Environmental Art at LettsSafari
From our roots as a wild safari garden for artists, LettsSafari has come a long way
In 2005 our founders embarked on a new project just outside New York City. The idea was to create a wild, bold space for artists to be able to work and create mostly abstract and conceptual art - even outdoors. The place had a studio, a gallery and a large, barren garden of a few acres. After reading about the rewilding project at Yellowstone park, which was quite topical in the US media at the time, the Letts family were inspired to attempt to rewild this nascent space.
They even approached the Yellowstone park team for advice and guidance.
In 2006 they started building probably the first garden dedicated solely to rewilding principles. Grasses were left to go wild, scrub was created around the edges, and hundreds of new trees and shrubs were planted. It was an endless series of experiments.
From 2007 art was being created in this place and artists fed back that the wild landscape pushed them on and inspired bolder, more creative art. Most importantly it helped some conceptual artists to make the leap towards outdoor art. Up until then conceptual art was mainly reserved for white walled, grey-floored galleries.
16 years later, the tradition that started in New York, has been awakened in southwest England. Devon’s Capability Brown gardens on the outskirts of Exeter, and host to the new Devon Sculpture Park, has dedicated its 15 acre ancient, historic gardens to rewilding principles. This 5 year project has created the world's first fully rewilded historic gardens. But, it has also inspired artists from southwest England and beyond to start to create truly inspiring, modern eco art in this rewilding showcase.
Devon’s Capability Brown gardens (a LettsSafari Park) and Devon Sculpture Park have gone a step further - dedicating themselves to environmental art and climate-inspired artists. They have combined the historic, often quite environmental sculpture collection with bold, modern outdoor art.
The newest collection is from one of Dorset’s most exciting conceptual eco-sculptors, Robert Marshall MRSS, is a landscape changer on many levels. Providing a large scale set of portals, both figuratively and conceptually, to attempt to force us to look at the world we live in differently. Perhaps even inspiring climate action and behavioural change.
Marshall’s works sit close to the intricate conceptual art from Terry Howe - pushing spheres upon us as if to challenge us not to ‘f**k up’ the little planet we exist on by poisoning it with plastics, chemicals, concrete or ploughs. Every single element in his stunning art is made up of found, recycled materials. The effect is stunning.
Howe’s works sit next to Speyer, an Exeter artist, who is known for his abstract, environmentally inspired, soil based sculptures. Speyer uses clay like a stone carver for the modern world. Shaping big, bold statements from our soil, a soil we would do well to nurture and protect. As, let’s face it, most of the things that we require come from it. You could argue that Speyer is a new kind of soil warrior - like surfers fight against pollution Speyer battles for the brown stuff below.
The collection of artists working and meeting at Devon’s Capability Brown gardens is steadily growing - blending a new kind of site-inspired art that genuinely fuses the conceptual with abstract, ancient and eco. Some of the art is hundreds of years old and some months old - like the gardens and landscape surrounding it. Yet the combination of environmental art in a rewilding park, from probably the world's most significant landscaper is a sight a little beyond the imagination. And one that LettsSafari is proud to be a part of, helping to support, shape and develop it in a small way.
The artists meet in this special place as a group every few months to debate, share and work together.
Their debates range from politics, the environment, the arts and their latest works. They consider their art in this place and in the surrounding digital realm inspired by another Letts project - LettsArt. After all, this eponymous diary family, has been innovating in the art world for forty years now. The artists meet again as COP27 kicks off in Egypt.
This private park is starting to be talked about way beyond its Devon base - and the photographers and filmmakers that are attracted to it help us to enjoy it behind the scenes. One of the photographers, Louise Kear, has put together this collection of photographs that tell the story. A tribute indeed.
It is hard to consider that this project is just a few years old. Imagine where it could be in another few years. A rare, yet truly inspiring environmental story. One full of hope. Perhaps one a number of us could learn from. LettsSafari + will keep you posted.
LettsSafari is spreading rewilding safari parks across the UK. Some of its parks even support environmental artists. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.