Art by Instinct

By Jonah Ward

There has always been something intriguing to me about bees, wasps and hornets. The immediate danger juxtaposed with total calmness and structured productivity that they command is something to admire. Throughout my childhood I would come across many of these insects’ hives or nests of different sorts, but none more fascinatingly beautiful, yet inherently ominous looking than the nest of the Bald-Faced Hornet. In actuality, they are not really hornets, but from the same genus as the yellowjacket wasp, though black in color.

Their nests can be found hanging from knee height to 30 or 40 feet up in the air. They can be as large as 3 feet tall and house up to 700 wasps. During the summer the Bald-Faced Hornets will gather all types of weathered wood and even plastic tarps and other various materials to fabricate the envelope that encases the combs inside. The nest essentially becomes a reflection and a true representation of its surrounding colors and textures.

In Fall, when the first rains descend, nests are abandoned and most will fall to the ground. I started collecting these nests in 2005 and found them many times in or around the same Madrone trees I collect bark from to make another series of work. Being that much of my work is made using wood and paper I felt a deep connection to the intriguing texture of these nests and they have inspired me to create new artwork.

By cutting up this once three dimensional structure into rectangular pieces and connecting the lines of color horizontally, they become like layers of the earth in the new form of a structured “painting”. Each layer embodies the essence of the natural construction materials these colonies of wasps gathered and created by instinct. 

To come full circle I find my actions to be similar to the wasps; I collect materials from encompassing locations and use them to create something that symbolizes the DNA of those areas, which is what I am striving to accomplish in this series of work.

A hollowed out bald-faced hornet's nest during art making.

A hollowed out bald-faced hornet's nest during art making.