White flowers sway in the wind, creating ethereal curves in its petals. A small bird rests on a petal as bees swarm around the flowers' pistils.

“Ambush.” All photos © Cynthia James, shared with permission

In the 1901 book, The Life of the Bee, Nobel prize-winning author Maurice Maeterlick wrote, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” Regardless of determining an exact range of years for such a catastrophe, the insect’s extinction has been a great concern for well over a century. We’ve become increasingly aware of the devastating consequences of living without bees, a dreadful outcome scientists are continually reckoning with.

In her extensive Bee Series, artist Cynthia James shines a light on the human and environmental necessity for the winged pollinators, imagining a botanical catalog of plant forms and insects thriving amongst each other in another world. Describing a seminal experience directly related to this inspiration, James reflects on when she and her partner lived in the lowland jungle of Yucatán, a seminal experience that inspired the body of work. The artist explains:

We began to see the environment change rapidly as global warming increased along with the use of pesticides damaging bees and butterflies. We saw butterflies in swarms in the 1990s, but we never expected their disappearance to occur so quickly. Pesticides and genetically modified seeds permeated with antibacterials are new elements shocking the finely balanced interplay between humans and food sources.

Seemingly dancing or moving in rhythmic trance, bees of varying hues percolate in each painting, assembling in elegant spirals and double helices. Swaying in similar fashion are the plants the pollinators swarm, appearing as almost mutated forms of familiar foliage that allude to 18th century grotesquerie.

James’ work will be on show in The Bird and the Bees and More: Pollinators opening at the Wildling Gallery in California next week. For more updates and work, check out the artist’s website and Instagram.


Against tall, burnt orange plants resembling corn stalks, bright blue bees hover in the form of a double helix.


A purple and yellow sea flower mimics the form of a jellyfish.

“Genetic Murmuration”

A tall pink flower rises against green leaves in the background. Bees swarm the left side of the plant.

“Birds vs. Bees”

An orangutan, parrot, anteater, turtle, and sea creatures ride the back of a bright red heron.

“The Ark”

A tall, trumpet-shaped flower in coral hues stands against wispy golden strokes. Bees hover at the top of the flower.

“God Save the Queen”

A white heron stands and opens its beak wide, a mountain of fruits towering from its mouth. It stands atop a fiery rock, and bees swarm it in a spiral motion.

“The Save”


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