“The birds poured in in countless multitudes…The air was literally filled with pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.”- from John J. Audubon’s Birds of America
Blake Lenoir’s wilderness drawings are both celebrations and laments. From the Amazon rainforest to the wetlands of our own Calumet region, the artist helps us lose ourselves in the vivid color and diversity of world ecosystems. He also reminds us of all that has already been lost. Looking over Atlas Mountains, a huge drawing depicting the highland jungles of Morocco, Lenoir picks out different species: “There’s a Northern Bald Ibis… Aleppo Pines… the Barbary Lion, only found in captivity now… the Wild Ox, extinct… Pistachio Trees...”
Creatures extinct and still surviving coexist in Lenoir’s work, all packed together tightly enough to feel the warmth of one another’s breath. Predator and prey lie side-by-side. Each large-scale Lenoir drawing takes several months to complete. He studies a biome, sketching individual creatures and educating himself about their web of relationships, before setting to fit the whole bursting ensemble into a composition. The drawings are layered - pencil, pen, marker, all topped with colored pencil mark-making so thick and saturated that it could be mistaken for paint.
Beyond the borders of the drawings, Lenoir’s life is devoted to nature. A member of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, he’s also a diligent farmer at Urban Growers Collective’s Clara Schaffer Park in South Chicago. Lenoir started a Miami Tribal Garden in the park, growing many crops traditional to the peoples that originally inhabited the Calumet region - orange squash, white corn, echinacea, milkweeds, among many others. As Lenoir puts it, “Nature is a passion. It’s my culture, pastime, and religion.”