A few months ago I saw a Call for Entries that looked particularly exciting. It was to collaborate with The University of Bath through Edge Arts Bath, on a science and art project. My submission video is here.
The starting point for the painting came from the 1445 Giovanni di Paolo (di Grazia) paiting, “The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise”. I pitched the idea to Edge Arts Bath of creating an oil on board version, using the same basic compositional elements but exploring the theme of microbiology. For my Visions of Science Art Bursary I was paired with the Milner Centre of Evolution. This was fantastic as I got to travel down the the Centre and meet staff within the department.
During a very busy day with the staff from the Milner Centre for Evolution I got to meet with academics working in different areas. As an arts graduate with no science background it was fantastic to get a grounding in basic concepts and some of the exciting developments they lead onto.
As the day progressed I made some rough sketches of departmental members, to include as portraits in the final piece as well as noting down ideas that I wanted to bring in. For example, Dr. Paula Kover works with the Cakile Martima plant, a relative of cabbage, and explores how the number of DNA copies impacts on leaf morphology, seed and flower presentation. She shared with me photographs of her research and I am really happy to have included examples of Cakile along the bottom of the painting.
The painting itself, as inspired by the di Paolo holds to the same dimensions. It is 46.4×52.1cm.
The portraits within the painting are of Dr. Nick Longrich, whose office was a delight to visit with the range of dinosaur teeth, fossils and books. We had a great conversation about the end of the dinosaurs and evolution of birds. He is shown as a miniature portrait on the butterfly wing. Dr Nicholas Priest showed me around the centre and introduced me to his colleagues. The visit ended with a trip to Nick’s fly lab. His research explores the transmutation of STI’s among fruit flies, the fruit fly in the bottom left corner is a tribute to this.
Professor Samuel Sheppard very kindly agreed to adopt all sorts of walking poses in order to give me the standing portrait in discussion with the angel. Sam had lots of great ideas and his work with genomic analysis of bacteria gave me the idea of adding bacteria to the picture. There are three different types show, below the fly is a pile of E-coli battery with two Campylobacter bacteria shown either side of the Escherichia coli (E-coli) bacteium. In creating a painting which plays around with perspective and scale I wanted to make the bacteria feel as important as the figures, plants and landscape to show the impact they have on everything.
Dr Leslie Turner was fascinating, she explained in layman’s terms her work on hybrid sterility in mice. The mice testes that work as alternative fruits in the tree are from her presentation. I also included a small portrait of Leslie on the wing of the butterfly.
The Director of the Institute, Professor Laurence Hurst gave me a great introduction to the Institute and the ideas behind it. His portrait is on the right in the trees. He explained the Cambrian Explosion to me in a very accessible way. Dr Alex Jeffries is shown on the left of the trees.
The pre-implantation stage embryo in the centre of the circle reflects the research on DNA and genomics. I was at a loss as to what to fill the rest of the green in with, so settled on cell walls, painted to seem like they were dividing up.
From the original painting I kept the colour palette using the following paints:
Going for a more zingy palette with perfect opposites in it allowed me to balance off the neutral grey primer. The primer I mixed using a dove grey and white with a smidgen of indian red for warmth.
I mocked up a basic composition and used tracing paper/layout paper to check the position on the board. Once I was happy with the basic elements I transferred across using watercolour pencils. I then painted in some basic high and low lights using acrylic paint markers, before starting the oil. Having such a tight deadline for creating the painting and drying time meant I had to limit how much detail I went into and try to keep to broader, more impressionistic brush strokes.
Here is the finished painting framed and on its way to The Edge Arts Bath. The work will be revealed in the Visions of Science exhibition, alongside the Andrew Brownsword Gallery’s inaugural Art Prize from 15 Sep – 13 Oct 2018.
For further information about the bursary
The Milner Centre for Evolution
For more information on the di Paolo painting