Voice of the beehive: World first as Co Antrim artist Raymond Watson casts beehives in bronze
Co Antrim artist Raymond Watson believes he has created a global first in his new collection of art, reflecting the importance of bees upon life on earth. Jenny Lee finds out more
BEES are part of the biodiversity on which we all depend for our survival. They provide food - honey, royal jelly and pollen - and other products such as beeswax, propolis and honey bee venom.
Raymond Watson, who keeps his beehives at his home just outside Cushendall, Co Antrim, reflects the beauty and life of these valuable creatures in a new exhibition of work which includes paintings, soundscapes and highly unique sculptures.
"I am an artist and a beekeeper. I have been observing and noting the activity of my apiary for years. I knew that I would eventually present art that explores the life of the honey bees," says Raymond.
In the process, he believes he "created art that has never been done before". In a feat of artistic and technical achievement and patience, Raymond's bronze sculptures, that were created by moulding the extremely fragile and living beehive frames inside the brood box, revealing much detail: brood patterns, Queen cells (empty and occupied), developing pupa and capped honey.
Raymond has been studying the behaviour of the bees in his own apiary for many years and wants his exhibition - Apis Mellifera, The Honey Bee - to highlight the importance of these tiny creatures to mankind and earth.
"I grow my own vegetables, I have fruit trees, I make my own wine and I forage for wild food. Keeping bees is a natural part of that bigger picture," he explains.
"But I have to say that bee keeping is special and I enjoy everything about it. They have a special place in the environment.
"The most exciting moment in the beekeeping calendar is during May, June and July. This is when the bees are most active, reproducing, swarming, foraging and making honey. I love catching primary swarms and successfully moving them into a new beehive."
The artist believes the bronze sculptures present much more than an opportunity to get up close to, and intimate with, the inside of the beehive.
"Everything in the beehive is temporary and continually changing, for example when the queen egg is laid there are 16 days growing before it hatches," explains Raymond, who on a single frame managed to capture the magical moment after a new queen hatched and the moment before the next queen hatches.
"The act of capturing this intimate and fleeting life activity and then to further transform 'the living moment' into the bronze artefact that is solid and almost eternal, raises conceptual questions about life," adds Raymond, highlighting the fragility of our environment.
A renowned artist, working across various disciplines, Raymond is perhaps best known for his peace agreement sculpture, The Hands of History. In this reflection of the Northern Ireland peace process, he cast the hands of more than 30 figures including John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, George Mitchell, Mo Mowlam, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.
However, the Belfast-born artist describes Apis Mellifera as "one of the most challenging subjects" he has ever attempted to portray
"For me this is a developing subject, a subject that I will greatly expand and elaborate over the next couple of years," he enthuses.
The exhibition, currently running at Belfast's ArtisAnn Gallery, also features a series of paintings capturing different events within the life cycle of the bees and the beehive.
Visitors will also discover that bees make more than buzzing noises, through soundscapes Raymond composed using original recordings of bee sounds from inside and outside the hives.
One of the four-minute soundscapes transports you into the stereo sound of swarming bees, whilst the second track tells the Story of the Bee in its own 'words', including 'piping' queens and unhatched queens 'quacking' in reply.
"Listeners should fit the headphones, close their eyes and get on the magic carpet of sound and enjoy an amazing journey with the bees," he encourages.
Apis Mellifera, The Honey Bee - An Exhibition by Raymond Watson continues at ArtisAnn Gallery, 70 Bloomfield Avenue, Belfast until February 25. Raymond will hold an artist talk, together with local conservation officer, at the gallery on Thursday February 23 at 7pm as part of the NI Science Festival. Free tickets are available at Nisciencefestival.com.