Despite our best efforts, nature never remains neat and tidy in South Florida. This is, after all, the land of lightning, weaving waterways and vast tree roots cracking through concrete. Yet whether formed by root tendrils or electric bolts, these forces all seem to follow a recurring web-like pattern. This secret architecture underscoring the natural world proves intriguing for Delray Beach artist Jill Hotchkiss. “It’s like a sacred geometry, representing the bonds that exist between all life forms,” she says of this mysterious pattern depicted in her ink drawings, carved wood reliefs, drywall sculptures and oxidized copper panels.
Recreating these forms requires some biomimicry. In her ink pieces, for example, Hotchkiss often pours, blows and rolls the liquid across the paper. “Sometimes I don’t even touch the surface,” she notes. “I just put the two elements together and see what patterns are created.” These drawings also become the template of the artist’s wood reliefs, for which she carves out the outline and gilds the final shape in metals like 24-karat gold leaf. Whether working with warm cedar or sooty India ink, she often leaves the materials raw to enhance their natural qualities.
These abstractions formed the foundation of Hotchkiss’s practice since her earliest years as a resident at Oolite Arts and further developed during her masters in fine arts at the Pratt Institute. But something shifted when she returned to South Florida two years ago, opening her studio at the Arts Warehouse. The artist continued experimenting with sketching plants, tapping into her affinity for Victorian botany illustrations. “I loved the idea of silhouetting the plants to see their forms,” she says.
Hotchkiss infuses this representational style in her latest series of gilded botanical drawings on 14-foot-tall paper scrolls, most recently on display at the Cornell Art Museum. Showing the entire plant system, she uses her freewheeling abstract techniques to create the subterranean labyrinth of roots and combines them with intricate illustrations depicting the lush canopy growing above. This contrast provides “a symbiosis balancing control and chaos,” the artist says.
Striving for such aesthetic harmony also implies hope for a more unified relationship with nature—one that seeks to learn and preserve, rather than dominate. “Nature has all this invisible wisdom,” Hotchkiss muses. “A lot of that can be mimicked in the way humans live.”