The Herbarium’s Shadow – a new show at the San Mei gallery

This exhibition by Matthew Beach, in Brixton’s San Mei Gallery, is rooted in the time he spent among the tropical plants in the Amazonian rainforest. He reflects upon how it has come to pass that these plants exist both in their natural, not easily accessible habitat, but also as familiar additions to so many of our sitting rooms. In turn, this simple plant journey raises many more questions about the environment, sustainability, globalisation and the impact of human activity and trade upon the world. 

The work also falls into two parts. Dark, rather sinister and shadowy glimpses into Victorian-like parlours – a familiar setting for the potted plant – stand in sharp contrast to single, feathery, insect-like, leaves which delicately float and sometimes almost disappear. In one world tropical plants have been transported, domesticated and somehow made solid; in the other they exist as a brief, ethereal presence.

Much of the work occupies a space between art and botany – detailed rendition using a complex technique, but ultimately an aesthetic more than a scientific endeavour.  

Matthew Beach also examines the world of wallpaper as another route for tropical plants to become part of our lives.

It’s an interesting show which uses the everyday to raise some important questions.

The exhibition is free and runs until 22 May in the San Mei Gallery, 39a Loughborough Road, SW9 7TB. For further information go to