Monday 12 January 2009

Art Monday - forgotten format

A few years ago, I became very excited by a possible format for a huge series of paintings.

The canvas was 12"x24", small-ish on the wall, but a comfortable size to depict some detail. My intention was to do a series of images blending human elements with unusual organisms that catch my fancy. I referred to it as a "Primer Series" to inform viewers about the subject matter I tend to paint.

The composition was straightforward. Over the years, I have found that we as human beings tend to enjoy and be intrigued by images of other human bodies. Not too surprising. So I put a human figure or at least partially human figure in the center to entice the eye, and draw viewers in. Around the human, I would place the fossil or organism, and as you can see in Life As a Trilobite, I blended the trilobite with the man.

Above and below the figure, I placed the thematic organism in series as an almost decorative element, possibly with labels. This idea was inspired in part I think, by my love of Alphonse Mucha's work, which you can see influenced Life With Diatoms quite a bit. Then, I planned on having a small card with the work's title and information about why the organism grouped with the human figure mattered so much. The Primer Series would then provide an introduct
ion into the rest of my work. One of the main reasons behind using this format was that I found that many of my peers in university, my professors and my close friends did not necessarily share my interest in biology and paleontology. They enjoyed my paintings, but greater insight was a little closed off.

I had an art show with another excellent artist and close friend as my university days waned. When I exhibited Symbiosis (left, click in gallery to enlarge), a fellow coffee shop employee who was also a zoology major, asked me, "okay, if this means nothing to you, never mind, but in that painting with the green guy, is that a tardigrade?".

Replying that it was, she smiled and said, "I could tell because of those little hooked feet." It was an inspiration. Most people thought the painting looked cool, a little dark and creepy, and here was someone who understood the purple blobby thing hovering above the plinth.

So the plan was to draw in non-bio-paleo folks into the paintings with intriguing paintings of people, and then open them up to the wealth of creatures I find so fascinating, perhaps with an explanatory card off to the side.

When I took this show on the blogosphere almost two years ago, the beauty became that so many people who were also fascinated with these organisms find me.

There were others planned in the series. An ammonite, shells like ram's horns on his head. A Primer Series version of Symbiosis with the tardigrade looking all cute and water bear-ish.

Perhaps one day I'll begin explaining myself again.

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traumador said...

those are cool... though the trilobite/human hybrid had me wondering if i should be worried about getting my face hugged or something.

traumador said...

oh and my calender JUST arrived here today! very nice

Glendon Mellow said...

"They're all around us man! They're gonna kill us!"

Glad you like the calendar, Traumador!

Sean Craven said...

Graaaah... crawling back into the blogosphere.

Heh. Just started an extended rant on science and art and realized that I was on the wrong thread.

Glendon, these look great. I particularly appreciate the handling of the tonal values and the sense of light. Even with the deliberate distortions of anatomy that you're using (especially in the diatoms piece) the images still have a very solid, believable feeling.

Thematically, this is also interesting work. As someone who obsesses over the production of the image and lets any deeper meanings take care of themselves -- I may riff on possibilities after completion but while I'm working it's a pretty instinctive process aside from the intellectual puzzle of working out technique.

I'm very curious -- to what extent to you think things through before you set down to work?

I think the real question I'm asking is, do you think verbally while you're in the planning and conceptual stages or do you focus more on mental imagery?

I'm fascinated by the contrast between verbal and non-verbal (visual, auditory, etc.) thought and this seems to be an area where you're working with both...

Anonymous said...

Looks like something from a Sci-fi movie or TV show. Cool paintings.

I like the idea, although the human/trilobite hybrid kinda gave me the creeps.

Glendon Mellow said...

Hiya Sean,

Can't wait to see your art and science rant!

A lot of my sketching and planning is written out. It's a sort of guilt of mine that I can't fill a sketchbook without copious use of words and arrows pointing at things.

(However...I have an advanced edition of a new large Moleskine sketchbook that I am once again going to try doing just that.)

Some paintings of mine, especially ones on shale are only sketched out in brief to make sure they'll fit and then painted freehand.

Life drawing is also something I enjoy. Just an object person or form and lighting, charcoal in my hand, and my visual cortex. No planning necessary.

Glendon Mellow said...

Raptor - an aversion to arthropods, perhaps?

I see the trilobite-hominid figure as mysterious and deserving of sympathy.

Anonymous said...

You're right. He does seem to deserve sympathy. However, it's still a tiny bit creepy. In fact, it's also a little cool.

BTW, is that a arthropod evolutionary "branch" or someone crossing human and trilobite DNA?

Glendon Mellow said...

Evolved from arthropod or hybrid? Or just an idea?

Which do you think?

Anonymous said...

Either way, it's just an idea. That hybrid seems more like a wierd gentic experiment or Star Trek/ StarWars alien or something than a branch of evolution.

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