Meadow art

Crickets bounce, bees wobble, hoverflies dart and Jessica Albarn stands in the middle of her steep, sunny meadow and scrunches up her hands in delight. “Quite a bit of my work is about layers,” she says, crouching down to investigate the depth of the grass with her fingers. “It’s about being able to get right in there and explore an area.”

Albarn is a visual artist best known for her beautifully detailed pencil drawings of spiders, bees, butterflies and other insects. Perhaps it is inevitable that peering through a microscope at dead insects in her London studio led her to the lanes of south Devon to create a meadow, and capture some of its richness in a series of artistic adventures.

If you feel there’s something familiar about the name, you’d be right: Albarn is the younger sister of Damon of Blur, and her meadow is on the old farm he bought for his family 20 years ago. “I’m lucky to have this antidote to London,” she says. “Damon bought this as a family place, so we could all have somewhere to meet. This work is part of him, because I wouldn’t have had this otherwise. It’s been wonderful.”

Spider … a drawing on paper. Photograph: Jessica Albarn

Albarn spent most of her childhood in rural Essex. Her dad, Keith, taught at Colchester School of Art. “It was great for me as a kid. We had a bit of freedom. You could walk to the woods and down to the river, and I had loads of animals. That’s where it all began for me.” Her mum came from a farming family in Lincolnshire and Albarn thinks a love of the land “is also probably a bit in the blood”.

She took her art foundation course under her dad at Colchester (“He was great, but I had a bit of a hard time from some of the other staff”) and moved to London to complete her degree. She was just getting going as an artist when she gave birth to her daughter, who is now 21, and she has an 18-year-old son. But just when she might have had more time to make art, she had another daughter, who is five. Some artists struggle to continue working with family and financial demands. Albarn has “fought like crazy to keep going”, she says. “I’ve been very dogged about it. Being a woman and having children, your career takes a different path. I didn’t get the opportunity to do an MA, but I’ve found my path – and it’s made me very disciplined.”

Field-good factor … the artist’s meadow at the family farm in Devon. Photograph: Jessica Albarn

She likes to go out on a forage, she says, and her art “usually begins with something I find”. She has been particularly inspired by bees, and undertook a “bee marathon” at the Natural History Museum, drawing bees all day in “homage to their industry”. She laughs. “Everyone is going on about the bees dying, which is very tragic and depressing, so it is nice to try and do something positive.”

Albarn began raising money for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and learned of the importance of “creating corridors for wildlife and wild flowers”. And that’s when she decided to turn a small, steep south-facing sheep field into a meadow. “It’s incredibly lush down here and there’s a lot of wild flowers, so my parents thought I was a bit mad when I said I wanted to create a meadow. But I hope to encourage two species in particular – the shrill carder bumblebee and theblaeberry bumblebee. They are around in this area but they are very, very rare.”

Following advice from a BCT outreach officer, she created the meadow. “Although I’ve been studying insects for a long time, I’m quite a novice and am learning as I go,” she says. Much of her art mixes insects with geometrical forms and the meadow is marked out in six hexagon shapes – inspired by beeswax – arranged in a triangular shape. She and her mum collected as much local seed as they could find (locally sourced seed is always best for “new” meadows) and bought extra BCT-approved native seeds, and scattered them over the slope.