The Symbioses of Orchids

Orchids aren’t just pretty things but are fascinating organisms that create intricate symbioses with their environment. Charles Darwin expressed his enthusiasm for orchids in a letter to his publisher: „I cannot fancy anything more perfect than their many curious contrivances“, hinting at the vastly successful adaptation of orchids to attract pollinators. What is more, beyond their ingenious ways of reproduction, orchids also tie bonds below the ground: no orchid can live without entering into a symbiosis with certain kinds of fungi. Sometimes this connection is needed only for germination, sometimes it lasts for life.

By painting on glass, I open up the painted surface: The world behind shines through and the surrounding environment is reflected. The play of two-dimensional painting and three-dimensional installation allows the painted surfaces to gradually become their own object.

My oil paintings of orchids and their symbiotic partners bring together the consideration of their interconnectedness with more abstract thoughts on surfaces. Orchids as surfaces beyond which life-giving symbiotics fungi networks hide; orchids as surfaces that are in direct connection with the outer environment, and with one another, through insects.

This painting reflects upon the symbiotic relationship between the bee orchid and its pollinator. The bee orchid, or Ophrys Apifera, is a wild orchid that grows in Central Europe and other regions. Her evolution resulted in a strong resemblance with her pollinator, the long-horned bee. This shows in the orchid’s furry petals, her smell, and not least her long antennas.

The paintings entitled ´Buldbous´and ´Layered´are part of an ongoing series of four. The two others are still in progress. The paintings in this series show close-up views of diverse orchids, enlarged multiple times from their original size. I use the subject matter of orchids to translate categories of surfaces into paintings: each painting of this series represents a different essential property of the idea of a surface.

These paintings are part of a series of four sketches of orchid petals, painted partly on site in the greenhouses of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. In this series I experiment with painting on glass and discover the richness of orchids as a subject matter for painting.

What Is A Garden?

An attempt to answer the question of a Garden is to look at the overlap between nature and human, thus to ask 'What is Nature?' and 'What is particularly Human?'. For this painting, I chose an orchid to represent nature and a human hand holding a transparent sphere to represent humanity. Orchids are one of the largest plant families, and the one depicted here is slightly dangerous-looking and almost alien-like in appearance, just as nature can sometimes appear dangerous and other to humans, even though we are part of nature. From the right, the hand grasping the transparent spherical structure reaches into the picture surface. While echoing the arrangement of the orchid petals, the hand is a symbol of the bridge between body and mind - of being in contact with the physical world, yet seeing through or beyond it.

Still Life and Colour


Bob Bartlett is a US-American physician and medical researcher who is credited with developing a lifesaving heart-lung technology known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). He is also the founder of the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO), dedicated to the development and evaluation of novel therapies for support of failing organ systems, using the ECMO technology.

To celebrate the 80th birthday of the founder of ELSO, Bob Bartlett, this portrait is a tribute to his spirit and skill that lead to the 30th anniversary of the ELSO community in 2019.