Q&A: David Buckley Borden Talks New Exhibit ‘Best in Show’

Borden discusses his ecological art currently on view at the Boston Aviary Gallery.

david buckley borden beaver ecological engineer

“Massachusetts’ Premier Ecological Engineer” is one of Borden’s works on display at “Best in Show.” (Photo provided)

Animals and art collide this month at the Boston Aviary Gallery. Now on view, more than 25 artists (mainly local talent) have created artwork of animals, both real and imagined, for “Best in Show: An Exhibition of Art Inspired by Animals Both Real and Imagined.” The scope of the exhibit ranges from detailed recordings of the animal form to fantastical creations grown from the minds of the artists.

As David Buckley Borden, a lifelong New Englander who works with Boston’s Trifecta Editons arts print collective, explains it, the show is a chance for artists to come together for some warmth to start off the new year. Borden himself has pieces on display at the exhibit, from which a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

Borden, a landscape architect with a skilled hand at ecological art, talked with us about the show and gave us a glimpse at some of the work on display.

How would you describe the show at the Aviary Gallery?

I think it’s a combination of—it might sound corny, but—a celebration of animals, whether they’re real or imagined. So, there’s a nice mix of work in terms of photography, but there’s also fantasy-type stuff for people to go wild with what they see as an imagined animal. So the spirit is a fun show, and it’s a group show—mostly local, some nationals.

And you have two pieces in the exhibit, right? Tell me about those.

I do. I have one that’s a play off of a beaver as a landscape ecologist, or ecological engineer, rather, in the context of Massachusetts, and then I have another piece, which is a fictitious animal—kind of a cross-breed between a bison and a beaver: two, what they call, ecological engineers of the animal world. Kind of nerdy stuff.

You’re a native New Englander–what has kept you here? What’s kept you working with the landscapes in the northeast?

By day I’m a landscape architect, so I’m constantly in the world of the built environment and thinking about what’s good about it (critiquing it) and what’s bad about it (how to improve it). Living in New England my entire life, it’s just a natural impulse, a natural craving to create work based on growing up here as well as the day-to-day experience of being a native New Englander.

What is your inspiration for these pieces? Is it your work as a landscape architect that inspires your art, or the other way around?

It’s both. There’s a creative feedback that happens between the two. With the art, it takes on a lighter air. Landscape architecture’s a pretty serious profession, and so part of it is getting the opportunity to really play with ideas that I wouldn’t get to exercise in a professional setting. Ideally, my long-term vision is that there’s no separation between my artwork and my design work. I’m relatively new at this because I’ve only been doing it for three years, so I have a lot of learning to do.

What brought you to start doing art?

In landscape architecture, a lot of the work that we do is drawings. I always drew growing up, but when I went back to grad school I got refocused on it, so I took a lot of hand-drawing classes, as well as the digital media. Really, the natural creative progression was to merge the two. I’ve always been interested, now I’m just making more time to do it.

You work with cartography, animals, landscapes, humor, and more. What are your favorite pieces to do?

It changes all the time, but recently, I’m actually in the middle of doing the Boston Fun-A-Day project. It’s a creative challenge to make one new piece per day for the month of January. The really cool thing about it is that it gives me a mandate to finish one new thing a day and not obsess about it. What I’m doing is one-page proposals for little, small landscape interventions in New England. So, those I’m really into these days. The maps are kind of like a go-to thing for me. I just do a lot of mapping at work, on a variety of scales, and it’s fun just to play with maps in terms of how they can relate to both the typical person and how they perceive maps and what they mean to people, as well as the place they live.

You also use a lot of different methods; in the Fun-A-Day project specifically, you use drawing and graphic design. How do you decide the best way to represent your subject?

I really enjoy mixing digital and analog media. The analog itself is a little tiresome—it just takes so much effort, but the digital, it’s data—it’s kind of sterile. So when you mix the two, it’s really interesting. You get the precision of technology throughout the iterations, but you also have that hand; the hand is evident and it gives a more human quality to the work. That’s why I appreciate it. I like mixing the two as much as possible.

What do you hope to say with your art? Is it a hobby on the side of landscape architecture or something different?

It depends on the piece. I think that art runs the gamut of human emotions. Some of the pieces are really light, but other ones are serious. On a serious note, it’s really great to challenge people to think about what the landscape and environment they live in is like, and how it got that way. I’m really interested in communicating the past, future, and present challenges to the land that we live in, so I think that would be a good way to frame it.

What’s coming up next for your work?

So, the Fun-A-Day project runs through until the end of the month, and then the next installation I’m doing is at Bodega, a store in Boston. I’m doing a Wild West-themed installation on the three large walls of that space, and it goes up in March.

Here, a sample of some of David Buckley Borden’s work:

david buckley borden wood pile target

“Wood Pile Target” is one of Borden’s Fun-A-Day projects. (Image provided)

david buckley borden new england map

“New England DPM Preference Map,” pen, pencil, acrylic paint, illustrator. (Image provided)

david buckley borden maine is cold

“Maine is Cold,” collage. (Image provided)

david buckley borden masshole

“Masshole, Circa 1620 A.D.” is one of Borden’s more comical pieces. (Image provided)

“Best in Show: An Exhibition of Art Inspired by Animals Both Real and Imagined,” through January 31, Boston Aviary Gallery, 48 South St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4728, aviarygallery.com. After a snowstorm crashed opening night, there will be a closing reception for “Best in Show” on January 31 from 6-9 p.m.