Artist Profile: Regan Golden turns plants into art

The artist Regan Golden // Photo by John Nicholson

Regan Golden // Photo by John Nicholson

It’s easy to forget the verdant intensity of nature. The fuzzy, villous hairs on the fronds of the unfurling fern. Towering cottonwoods sheltering delicate clusters of milkweed. Even invasive patches of plants, from garlic mustard to buckthorn.

But when Regan Golden walks through an urban park or strolls along the rail yard near her house, she sees more than simple blossoms or bushes. To her, it’s an abundance of art.

“Plants are a part of our everyday lives, from the beer we drink to the medicines we need to the food on our plates,” Regan says. “And when you’re in an urban environment, we tend to forget this. I want people to start seeing plants—to be aware of their surroundings. What is the light like today, the climate, the plants? We need to be present in the world and to the world.”

A scan by Regan Golden called "Prairie Construct Spring Ephemerals" // Art by Regan Golden

A scan by Regan Golden called “Prairie Construct, Spring Ephemerals” // Art by Regan Golden

This passion for plants began at a young age for Regan, who vividly remembers marveling at seed catalogs with her mother and planning the family’s small city garden. “My mom and I loved looking at seed catalogs, for when it’s the dead of winter in Minnesota, you can’t help but dream of spring and color and plants,” she recalls. “I would cut them up and sometimes make collages or put the cut-outs into a bowl—as if it was confetti. […] Cutting those catalogs up contributed to my work today.”

With direct influences from the environment, juxtaposed with her fascination with traditional botanical illustrations, photograms, and abstract expressionism, Regan’s work gives new life to overlooked vegetation.

To create her artworks, she splices, reorders, and “squishes” together layers of graphite paper, cut-up photographs, puddles and strokes of paint, and actual plants. With a natural progression of the plant’s flowering, wilting, and crumpling, Regan documents and amplifies this cycle of growth and decay through digital technology. She frames the materials onto a scanner, creating large-scale collages that typically size up to 40 by 60 inches.

“I can use photography to make this little fern appear huge,” says Regan. “This change in scale, by enlarging it, questions the plant’s importance. Combining that with other materials—paper, graphite, paint—it’s creating new context for living things that are usually ignored.

Regan Golden // Photo by Rik Sferra

Regan Golden // Photo by Rik Sferra

“Plants take my work in unexpected and surprising directions,” she says with a gleeful laugh. So much so that Regan’s creativity has expanded into her learning about land use, talking to scientists about biodiversity and climate change, as well as numerous artist residencies and fellowships.

Her first “big” work started in 2015 with the Jerome Foundation Fellowships for Emerging Artists, with her ongoing series “Prairie Constructs.” Currently, there are over 140 images in the series, recording seasonal changes in urban landscapes with her iconic plant-image-paint-technology method. That same year, she self-published a spiral-bound book of 97 of these “Prairie Constructs,” and she’s now working on book number two to fill in the rest. Her approach to documenting a landscape has also led her to residencies with The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the National Science Foundation, The Harvard Forest, and most recently, the College of Biological Sciences Conservatory at the University of Minnesota, which houses rare and endangered plants from around the world.

“My love of plants has steered my career as an artist into new terrain,” the 39-year-old says. “I’ve learned so much from plants about patience and perseverance.”

Sometimes, we forget to stop and smell the roses. To look at fallen leaves, a gnarly willow tree, or a field of flowing prairie grasses. But here’s a simple reminder from Regan Golden: “There’s so much wonder in the world—all you have to do is take a moment and look.”

Name: Regan Golden
Hometown: St. Paul, MN
Currently Resides: St. Paul, MN
Medium: Graphite drawings, painting, photography, installations

Regan Golden's cover art for the April "Green" Issue 54 of the Growler Magazine // Art by Regan Golden

Regan Golden’s cover art for the April “Green” Issue 54 of the Growler Magazine // Art by Regan Golden