Art Review by Dickson Beall
April 22, 2015
Henry Domke M.D., a family physician turned artist and photographer, is passionate about sharing the beauty of nature. Domke and his wife, Lorna, are founders of the Prairie Garden Trust, a development of their family estate that has become a way of life for them.
The Prairie Garden Trust is not about research and not about education. It's a prairie restoration project with a primarily aesthetic purpose — to restore the beauty of natural plants and environments that are, typically, indigenous to Missouri.
The Domkes, along with their board which manages the property — over 600 acres, a few miles west of Fulton — work it as a garden. The intent is for it to look natural, although the tender care that it receives surely makes it an enhanced natural.
Domke began photographing close-ups of his property's wildflowers and plants, as well as simple expanses of fields. He then printed these images on fine paper. Patients and medical professionals began seeing his work and they were enthusiastic about it. Many sought his framed prints for their offices or to hang on walls in their hospitals. His straightforward approach to the beauty he loves in nature found an eager market in health care settings.
Domke's photographs present stunning beauty in a fresh and arresting way that's neither cliché nor saccharine. Using long lenses, he captures delicate flowers in extreme close-ups, with backgrounds fading out of focus, replicating the way the eye sees.
Experiencing his art being so well-received aroused Domke's curiosity, and he started talking with researchers and turning to books. He found convincing affirmation in evidence-based medicine that art can have a healing dimension to it. And that probably comes as no surprise.
Visually, much contemporary art abandons beauty, considering it too simple to be worthy of attention. The post-modern world often questions whether it's superficial for the cutting edge, exploratory dimension of art to incorporate beauty. Art doesn't necessarily have to be beautiful, but if it is pleasing to the eye, does that appeal disqualify it as serious art?
Such a concept strikes Domke as odd, because beauty has always been particularly appealing to him. He doesn't make art "for the market." He simply does what he loves, creating digital images that are then printed by assistants and collaborators onto various materials — glass, metal and, most recently, on threads that are woven to create beautifully designed curtains and room dividers for health institutions.
Domke believes that one of the best ways to help sick people heal may be to reduce their anxiety. There are many ways to do that — through sound, through smell, through single bed occupancy versus multiple beds in the room. Yet another way is in the experience of art — art that the viewer finds easy to accept and appreciate, rather than the confrontational quality of so much concept-driven art.
Domke's photography is not only beautiful in itself, it also connects the viewer with nature, reduces anxiety and thereby aids in the healing process.
The art of Henry Domke is seen in hospitals and health care settings nationwide. Locally, his work can be seen at: Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Siteman Cancer Center West, St. Mary's Hospital, St. John's Mercy Hospital, Washington University Center for Advanced Medicine, Catholic Health Association, Dr. Lew Fischbein's Office, St. Anthony's Hospital, Dr. Peter Raven's Office at Missouri Botanical Garden, and Northwest Healthcare.