The Borderlands Research Institute highlights artists whose work makes a connection between art and conservation in the Greater Big Bend region, in hopes of inspiring greater efforts toward land, wildlife and resource conservation there. We are pleased to share the work of Suzi Davidoff, an artist based in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, as a Big Bend Artist for Conservation.
Suzi’s work explores themes of sustainability in the natural world through intimate drawings and prints that portray fine details of flora and fauna expanded in dreamy layers. Her connection to and passion for the natural world, and the deep concern she harbors for vanishing species, inform the work.
She makes drawings in the field and uses plant specimens and photos as inspiration. In some of her work, such as the Madera Canyon Suite of lithographs, she incorporates historical botanical drawings, making a connection to the science of exploration that those images represent. “The botanical drawings have a sense of discovery, of looking very closely, as if the artist is seeing the plant for the first time,” she noted.
She collects soil samples and dried plant materials and incorporates them directly into the work, making washes or rubbing a natural stain onto the paper, imbuing the work with a physical impression of the location of her walks.
“I’m interested in exploration, conservation, and human-wrought changes in the ecosystem—fragility and resiliencies,” Suzi mused.
She has watched the desert ecosystem change through many seasons, and witnessed the ravages of the 2011 Rock House fire that swept through the Davis Mountains over a decade ago. She incorporated burnt material from that wildfire into her work to illustrate the concept of loss and regeneration.
The world her art depicts is from her immediate surroundings—tiny plants observed during frequent walks and glimpses of wildlife she sees on her travels. She enlarges the subject matter to a scale at which they can no longer be ignored.
A special source of inspiration is Madera Canyon, a lush and verdant oasis tucked away in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. The Nature Conservancy stewards a good portion of this land in permanent protection with conservation easements as part of the Davis Mountains Preserve, a sky-island refuge lifted up from the drier desert lowlands surrounding the range.
The Davis Mountains are bursting at the seams with ecological variety and abundance. It’s especially evident in Madera Canyon, where the wetter landscape and year-round springs host a large variety of flowering plants and wildlife. Altogether, the pine and oak woodlands of the Davis Mountains support an estimated 325 bird species, a dozen amphibians and over 50 reptiles.
Places like these are becoming increasingly rare across the state.
It’s the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, a giant list of endangered and disappearing animals, that worries Suzi, and that concern is transformed into homages to the living plants and animals of the delicate Chihuahuan Desert depicted in her drawings.
These works are layered and ethereal, reflecting an impermanence that Suzi hopes is only seasonal. A plant grows and dies, scattering its seed within a matter of months, but as long as its habitat is protected, its long-term future is, too.
“Artists provide a different way to look at what’s around them,” Suzi observed. With Suzi’s art, the desert’s quietest inhabitants float like spirited cheerleaders, champions for their own survival.
New works by Suzi will be on exhibit at the Centennial Museum located on the University of Texas at El Paso campus this September. To view more of Suzi’s portfolio, visit SuziDavidoff.com.