You have only to look at the voluminous notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, in which he anatomized the workings of both manmade machines and the extraordinary machine that is man, to realize the debt art owes science.
Without it, there would have been no advances in how artists understood and depicted perspective, the properties of light or the complex mechanisms of the human body. And art has, frequently, made the ideas of science compelling, visible and comprehensible to the public in ways that scientists might not have achieved on their own. The one amplifies the other.
When we look at paintings by Monet, we often see pretty, dappled landscapes, and nothing more; but when he began to break away from academic artistic conventions in the late 19th century he was deconstructing in paint how our eyes process light, and how we understand ranges of color.
We might not appreciate now the radical departure that Monet’s choppy brush strokes and splotches and pools of paint represented to a late 19th century audience, but at the time his innovations corresponded to scientific theories on how light was transmitted as electromagnetic waves.
An exhibition at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon of work by artists Rob Kesseler, a photographer and glass worker, and Gar Waterman, a sculptor, continues the centuries-old conversation between art and science.
How do what seem like two dramatically opposed fields contribute to the other’s advancement? Does reimagining nature, as both artists do, bring us any closer to penetrating its mysteries?
Both Kesseler and Waterman will speak on “Nature Revisioned: Finding Meaning at the Intersection of Art and Science” at 6 this evening in the Clifford B. West Gallery at AVA.
Waterman, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1978, knew of Kesseler’s work and worked to bring him to the college, where he has been this week as part of an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship.
Kesseler is a professor at Central Saint Martins, an arts college that is part of the University of the Arts in London; he is also a chair of 5 Arts, Design & Science at the university. He was a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) Fellow at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, the Linnean Society and the Royal Microscopical Society.
Kesseler did the photography for the books Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers, co-written with Madeline Harley; Seeds and Fruit, both co-written with Wolfgang Stuppy; and The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants, co-written with both Harley and Stuppy. All have been best-sellers.
Kesseler takes relatively minute natural organisms, such as seeds, seed pods, pollen and petals — essential elements of life that often go ignored or are invisible to humans — and photographs them through electron microscopes, hand-coloring the images and printing them on aluminum in large-scale photographs.
Imagine an incandescent, photographic version of Whoville from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who! in which one infinitesimal speck of dust contains an entire planet, and you begin to appreciate the impact of Kesseler’s photographs. Microcosmos becomes macrocosmos, and the phenomenal and intricate patterns we see in these forms elicit awe.
Waterman lives and works in New Haven, Conn. He has made both large-scale public sculptures, and private commissions, in stone, wood, metal and glass that are based on seeds, bones, beetles and marine life. His fascination with such marine organisms as nudibranchs and sea shells are partially the result of having grown up with a father who was a well-known underwater photographer. The works he is showing at AVA are all of stone.
Kesseler, interviewed by phone from New York where he was staying prior to traveling to Hanover, was born in 1951 and grew up in the British Midlands, in a rural area outside Birmingham. When he was 10, his father gave him a handsome Victorian brass microscope (which he still has) that spurred Kesseler to begin making slides of insects. He also spent a good deal of time outdoors in the countryside.
In high school, Kesseler had to choose between studying biology or art in preparation for university, and chose the former. That was a disaster, Kesseler said, and his school switched him over to art. But in the long run biology came back into his life through his art.
“I’ve built up a kind of way of building up an analysis. I try to imbue images with the passion I have for the subject and the knowledge I’ve gained of science and plants in the field,” Kesseler said.
Scientists he’s worked with have come to realize that looking at, say, botany and biology through an artist’s lens “reveals to them aspects of things they hadn’t thought of. ... It helps them to communicate their ideas better,” Kesseler said.
This rationale applies to a lay public, as well. Just as plants use color to attract pollinators, Kesseler said, he uses color to draw an audience. Similarly, he said, just as “plants need dispersal mechanisms, as an artist I also need dispersal mechanisms,” such as books, photographs and the Internet.
For his part, Waterman said he had always been inspired by nature but that in recent years he has begun “to see all the really exciting and extraordinary things that people are doing under the umbrella of art and science.
“I realized there was this whole world of biology behind the forms that I love to make.”
Although neither artist alludes specifically to climate change in his work, that larger threat is in the background. His work, said Waterman, “allows me to feel that I’m part of a bigger thing. I’m doing work like this and using it as a leverage to raise awareness about the environment.”
“I don’t do politics with a big P,” Kesseler said. “I try to use my artistic skills to bring the natural world to a specific audience and use that as a lever.”
Rob Kesseler and Gar Waterman will speak at 6 this evening at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. It is free and open to the public. The exhibition continues through Wednesday.Openings and Receptions
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction opens an exhibition of prints by Sue Schiller and Nancy Wightman on Friday. A reception is planned for Nov. 4, 6 to 8 p.m.
As part of Vermont Open Studios this weekend, the Mill at Maxham Meadow Way in Woodstock will exhibit work by Rachel Gross, Lisa Kippen, Anne Mapplebeck, Amy Morel and Edythe Wright. The artists are part of an ongoing critique group and this is the first time that they have shown work together. The hours this Saturday and Sunday are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On subsequent weekends this month, the mill will be open from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 15, 22 and 29. There will be a closing reception on Oct. 29 from 4 to 6 p.m.
Photographer Thomas Urgo will show his work in an exhibition “World Views” at the OSHER@Dartmouth offices at 7 Lebanon St. in Hanover through Dec. 20.
Painter Gloria King Merritt exhibits new work in the atrium gallery space on the 4th floor of the Williamson building at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Earlier work is already part of the hospital’s permanent collection. The show opens this week and continues through Dec. 31. There will be a public reception on Oct. 20 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.Classes
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction has announced its slate of fall art classes, beginning on Saturday, Oct. 15 with a workshop on monotypes from the figure led by Bert Yarborough. Subsequent classes include: Sugar lift, a printmaking process, with Rachel Gross on Tuesday, Oct. 18; Intro to Monoprints with Lois Beatty on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29 and 30; and Gelli printmaking with Janet Cathey on Saturday, Nov. 5. For a complete listing of classes, course description and fees, go to tworiversprintmaking.org or call 802-295-5901.Ongoing
Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.
ArtisTree, Pomfret. “Local Color,” an exhibition of work by area artists on the theme of fall, continues through Oct. 30.
AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. Five artists show their work in the main galleries. Gina Adams exhibits “Its Honor is Here Pledged;” “Nature Revisited” combines the works of Gar Waterman and Rob Kesseler. Paulette Werger also shows her jewelry. Finally, Josh Yunger exhibits “ABC,” a show about his relationship with AVA Gallery, in the Johnson Sisters Library on the second floor. All exhibits run through Wednesday.
BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. In the Projects Gallery the paintings of Nancy H. Taplin are on view through Oct. 22.
Cider Hill Art Gallery and Gardens, Windsor. Gary Milek exhibits his work in the gallery.
Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Paul Klee: The World Through My Lens” continues through Dec. 23. There will be an opening reception on Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Aidron Duckworth Museum, Meriden. Sculpture, drawings and prints by Saxtons River, Vt., artist Michele Ratte are on view, as is “Developing Dimension,” works by Aidron Duckworth. The sculpture of Terry Lund is on the grounds. All exhibits close Oct. 30, when the museum closes for the season.
Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vt. “Landscapes After Ruskin: Redefining the Sublime,” curated by photographer Joel Sternfeld, continues through Nov. 27.
Hanover League Fine Craft Gallery, Hanover. The autumn exhibition features work by ceramicists Robin Ascher and David Ernster, textile artists Rachel Kahn and Kathleen Litchfield, and photographer Rosamond Orford.
Hood Downtown, Hanover. The photographs of Laetitia Soulier are on view in the exhibition “The Fractal Architectures” through Dec. 11.
Hopkins Center, Hanover. The sculpture and paintings of artist-in-residence Diana Al-Hadid are on view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery, and “Speak! Listen! CT! A Kaleidoscope of Architectural Elements for Public Space,” with work by Zenovia Toloudi of Studio Z, and students, is in the Strauss Gallery, through Nov. 13.
Howe Library, Hanover. An exhibition of colorful abstract work by Amy Fortier, “Mandalascopes and Fauz-zaics” is up through Nov. 29.
Library Arts Center, Newport. “Voices & Visions: Empowerment Through Art,” an exhibition addressing sexual and domestic violence continues through Oct. 28.
Long River Galleries, Lyme. “Following the Silk Road: From India to New England,” works by textile artist Ann Peck, are up through Nov. 6.
Main Street Museum, White River Junction. The museum’s exhibition of memorabilia associated with the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s continues through Oct. 28.
Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. An exhibition of landscapes and cityscapes by Lyme painter and illustrator Meg McLean ends Friday.
Norwich Public Library. “Mixed Bag,” an exhibition of abstract and realist work by Lynda Knisley and Linda Reeves Potter runs through Oct. 28.
Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. Sue Lenfest shows works related to nature and agriculture through Oct. 22.
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. Multimedia artist Candice Ivy exhibits her work in the exhibition “Within Above Below the Skin,” on view in the Picture Gallery through Oct. 31.
Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Margaret Jacobs exhibits her sculpture in “Lost and Found” through Dec. 2.
SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art continues through foliage season. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is now on view at the King Farm, while the Prosper Road site also shows new work. For more information, go to sculpturefest.org.
Tunbridge Public Library. “Facial Recognition,” a show by painter Marianne McCann continues until Nov. 4.
White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. Works by Brenda Garand are on view through Dec. 15.
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com.