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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cephalon: Emotional Trilobites! (Trilobites in Visual Arts part 2; Triple Trilobite Special!)

When I realized my book 'Geology in Art' I had the honor to record tens of first-hand opinions of contemporary geologic artists. Indeed I based my research on the belief that the opinions and statements of artists are valid source materials for the study of Geologic Art.
During my research, I interviewed a young paleoartist who occupies a place of relevance within 'trilobitic art': Glendon 'the Flying Trilobite' Mellow. The nickname reflects the double gaze of the painter, staring simultaneously at science and at fantastic atmospheres. Here is a short excerpt of the interview:

"The Flying Trilobite" is a recurrent element of your artwork. Why?
Trilobites with wings started to appear in my artwork about 13 years ago. I was always a fan of the realistic fairy paintings by artists like Arthur Rackham and Alan Lee, and wanted to blend my interest in palaeontology. I looked at numerous trilobite orders, and found that Balcoracania dailyi had these excellent pleural spines perfect for depicting support for insect or bat wings. The concept behind flying trilobites is an attempt at whimsy and intrigue. Evolution by natural selection has generated some amazingly diverse organisms; what can human imagination do, playing with forms and re-imagining what had evolved? The juxtaposition of an extinct sea creature with modern wings appeals to me.

Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil III, by Glendon Mellow. More artworks are featured on the artist's blog and website.

Your portfolio includes paleoart, fantasy art and commixtures of these aspects. How do you reconcile fantastic atmospheres with science?
I have always enjoyed images of environments and organisms I had never seen before. Science fiction and fantasy are often inspired by real scientific discoveries. The technical challenges of depicting a pachycephalosaur skull or chrysalis with an eye are both inspired by my sense of wonder at these fascinating objects. Whether the subject is real or imagined, the impetus to depict them feels similar to me.

Tell me a personal experience about expressing geology in art.
My wife brought home some shale roof tiles and thought I might paint on them. It was a challenging surface to work on. I created my "Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil" paintings on them, and had to learn how to work with the surface. The toughest thing is how much damage they do to a soft brush!
But I would never give up soft brushes, they are great for blending colour. 

 Haldane Precambrian Puzzle (A and B), by Glendon Mellow. You can see more artworks on the artist's blog and website.

Why do you feel the need to draw and paint about science? 
I'm in awe of science, and it is so inspiring, and learning about it is fun. That's the selfish part. I feel lucky to live at this place in history, with the past spread out, and the present so rich with knowledge. In my way I hope to contribute somehow. I hope to inspire investigation, questions and scepticism. I hope to inspire a young person to seek wonder in the natural world, and understand how rationality requires them to learn from their mistakes. Science and rationality are still far from the normal way many people in their day-to-day life. Most people rely on intuitions and portents rather than analysis and intellect. It's vital that everyone has a greater scientific education for their own health and happiness.

Speaking of "Flying Trilobites"...Peter Lynn produces a gigantic trilobite kite. The Megabyte holds the Guinness world record for the largest kite: the Megabyte! Watch it in action on this video!

Glendon Mellow is not the only contemporary artist who approaches trilobites from a symbolist perspective. In fact, I recently discovered the colorful world of Tricia Dewey. Her trilobites moves in a vivid world  constituted by changing shapes and colors. The sculptures are realized through a complex process combining encaustic wax, oil painting and fossil replicas realized in polymer clay / alcohol inks. The result is amazing!

 Some of Tricia Dewey's sculptures.

Vivid colors are also the base of Peter Bond's prehistoric paintings. I particularly enjoyed his warm  and somehow abstract synthesis of trilobites leaving tracks on the seafloor. It is also worth of note to mention Jung Hee-Lee Marles, an artist who realized a series of paintings dedicated to fossils.

Peter Bond, Trilobites.

Fossil trilobites as depicted by Jung Hee-Lee Marles.

Tony Cragg is one of Britain's best known and most inventive sculptors. He brings to his personal work an interest for science and biological shapes; it makes no surprise that he realized a series of trilobite-inspired sculptures. The representation of trilobites is carried through a synthetic attempt of grasping the essence of arthropod morphology.
By capturing the aesthetics of biologic body plan and re-creating the sensation in the eye that views the subject, I can say that there is a sort of plastic impressionism in Cragg's trilobites.
As reported by, the artist declared: "Sometimes pictures are puzzled together. For example, Darwin's theories and a mass of  geological studies have together led to visualisations of trilobite-infested primeval seas and vast tropical forests, dinosaurs, mammoths, and last but not least, man".

 Tony Cragg's trilobites.

The plastic beauty of trilobites have been grasped and synthetized also by the ceramic artist Stephnie Craig. Indeed her sculpture richly encapsulates biologic and paleontologic shapes, as well as geologic metaphors (i.e. 'fossilized memories'). As concerns her 'Trilobite', the sculptor use of the relief varies between investigation of segmented morphologies and exploration of biological textures. If you believe that my words are only empty art criticism, enlarge the picture below and note the detailed, 'biomorphic' texture of the work, blended with a beautifully segmented bauplan.
Stephnie Craig, Trilobite.

Maybe you could think that the weirdest and funniest trilobitic sculpture  is the chocolate trilobite on the left (you find it at Juniorgeo). If this is your idea, wait to see the Electrobite. It's a car. It's a trilobite. It's a neon-'o-rama. Well, it is better that you watch the pictures and videos below to understand what is it!
The Electrobite shows the double-facing aspect of trilobites: they have an alien morphology but they are also very cute.  Intriguingly, the Electrobite was presented at the Burning Man Festival 2009, therefore it could corroborate the 'open air festivals' issue of this webzine, where I discussed the influences of GeoArt on the famous artistic event in the Black Rock Desert.

A test drive on the Electrobite, a work of art by Jon Sarriugarte.

More Electrobite!

Jor Sarriugarte was not the only with a trilobite at the Burning Man Festival. Spencer Kane realized this beautiful rolled trilobite.

Another point of reference in trilobitic art is Michael Gagné, who is well known for his work within the animation field. Indeed Michael's short Prelude to Heaven recieved an Annie Award nomination (animation’s industry equivalent of the Oscar) for best animated short and became very popular within the animation community. His creativity is behind some of the best-known animated movies by Pixar (Ratatouille, the Incredibles), Warner Brothers (Space Jam), Disney and Don Bluth Animation (the Land Before Time). Michael authored some beautiful artworks inspired by trilobites. They appear as oniric origamis floating in the night.

Trilobic Unicorn, by Michael Gagné.

Trilobite 1 and 2 by Michael Gagné.

Intriguingly, Gagné curates with Andrew Scott a website dedicated to trilobites in art. The curators describes their Trilobite Show as "a visual celebration of an amazingly diverse, truly ancient, and fantastical group of creatures known as trilobites. Though they have been extinct for many millions of years, their preserved remains have set the imagination of men on fire since their discovery. The Trilobite Show's mission is to showcase the works of those people whose passion for trilobites motivates their expression".
Through their Trilobite Show, Gagné and Scott demonstrate an aesthetic passion for the classics of trilobite illustration: Ernst Haeckel and Joachim Barrande.

 Haeckel was a 19th century scientist, philosopher and artist who coined many terms in biology, including phylum, phylogeny, ecology. In my opinion, these trilobites inspired the visual landscape of Gagné's trilobites.

Joachim Barrande was a French geologist and paleontologist born in 1799.

Andrew Scott, an artist himself, curates the most extensive blog on trilobites in art: Triloblog! If you are a GeoArt enthusiast, the Triloblog is the right place for you. Scott shares with Gagné a passion for the classics, united by a particular taste for contemporary artists. Thanks to the Triloblog and the Trilobite Show, I rediscovered some of my favorite artists and... I explored new areas of trilobitic art. Hic sunt trilobita!

 Using polymers and hand made wire armatures, Andrew Scott designs inspiring sculptures of trilobites.

Diversity of trilobitic art. Right: Laura Passow used a Viking era technique of fabrication called naalbinding for her trilobites. Left: Peter Cameron is a geologist photographing geologic places and objects (from Triloblog).

For instance, the Triloblog cites the wonderful art of Jud Turner, which merges metal materials with biologic shapes. This apparent oxymoron is explained by the artist himself:
"Between seeming contradictions, lie greater truths.Quantum physics tells us that apparently solid objects are comprised of vast empty spaces, populated by tiny particles whose individual relationships create the whole. And that a single particle can exist in two separate places during one moment in time.I explore such dichotomies in my sculpture. Using welded steel and found objects, I create artwork which embraces opposites -- the tension between humans and nature; the perils of balancing biology and technology; or the combination of ancient fossils with modern machinery". This statement seem to occur throughout Jud Turner's art.
Jud Turner, Trilo Temporalis. It reminds me of H.R. Giger, but also of the illustrations of Renaissance naturalists.
Trilotable by Jud Turner.

Trilo-femoral mechanicus by Jud Turner.

Trilobite Show and Triloblog are the most prominent Internet resources on the subject 'trilobites and visual arts', but they are far from being complete. This happens because the subject is amazingly vast and in continuous evolution. Trilobites are a deep source of inspiration for human creativity. A question might arise: Why?

Trilobites and human creativity: a pout-pourri. From left to right: 'Trilobite' by Ludy Feyen. 'Prius Torik', an art car by Ken Duffy. Trilobite encaustics by Michele Barnes. A costume by Betsy the Divine. Trilobite jewelrly by ThisNext. Trilobite Origami by Sipho Mabona. Bob Heffner's trilobite terror. It is not visual art, but it is worth to cite: 'Trilobites' by Breece D'J Pancake. The coat of arms of Dudley; note the trilobite. A trilobitic beer label by the Kniver brewery. A cute trilobite by Brigette 'Weird Bug Lady' Zacharczenko. Dirk's 'Fresh Trilobites'! Trilobites being served at Dirk's.

The answer is quite difficult. For this reason, I will try a personal answer. Indeed, trilobites tickled also my creativity and I realized trilobitic sculptures and video-art.

Introduction to my trilobitic video art.

The design of my trilobitic sculptures. You find more info on my website.

You can't eat a trilobite: that's what my video-art says.

This is my very personal answer: Trilobites are familiar aliens coming from Deep time. Trilobites are familiar because many  recent arthropods share a similar body-plan (i.e. crustaceans, insects, arachnids) but, at the same time, trilobites are something completely different.
For these reasons, trilobites bring an emotional charge involving either a conceptual (i.e. Deep Time) and an aesthetic aspect (i.e. the plastic beauty of their segmented bodies). Timothy A. Conrad wrote in 1840 an elegant poem emotional charge. There are no better words as a conclusion of the 'Triple Trilobite Special': here is the incipit of Conrad's 'Ode to a Trilobite'.

Thou large-eyed mummy of the ancient rocks,
The Niobe of ocean, couldst thou tell
Of thine own times, and of the earthquake shocks
Which tore the ocean-bed where thou didst dwell;
What dream of wild Romance would then compare
With the strange truths thy history might unfold?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cephalon: Wearable Trilobites! (Trilobites in Visual Arts part 1; Triple Trilobite Special!)

The artist Jeanette M. Norman designs trilobitic wearable art.
Welcome again to the Triple Trilobite Special at the Geology in Art webzine. As you can understand from the title, I found so many examples of trilobite-inspired artworks...that I had to sub-divide the visual arts issue! This issue is entirely dedicated to 'wearable trilobites'. 'What are they?' you might ask. The answer is in the following lines!
Since Paleolithic times, humans considered fossil trilobites as prized objects of beauty and curiosity. Intriguingly, trilobites make their first appearance in art as items of personal adornment. In fact, the oldest ‘trilobitic art’ is the drilled trilobite that has been found in a 15 000 year old archeological site, hence named La Grotte du Trilobite (French for 'the Trilobite’s Cave'). This trilobite shows that fossils are subject of ancient interest for humans, as the trilobite is coming from geologic units very distant from the archeological site. On the other side of the ocean, the Ute Indians of Utah wore trilobites as amulets. These were known as Pachavee (“little water bugs”). Still nowadays, trilobites plays a role in jewelry, and in many cases “trilobitic jewels” meet the concept of wearable art, advanced in the 1900s by the Danish silversmith Georg Jensen. In some cases the artists include real fossils, in other cases they prefer sculpted elements (see pictures below).

Badali Jewelry dedicated designed many trilobite-inspired pieces, such as rings, necklaces and earrings.

"Ancient life" features an ammonite, a sea scorpion and a (small) trilobite. The jewel was awarded second place in the 2005 Saul Bell Design Award Competition.

A trilobite necklace, casted directly from the sedimentary record!

Polymer clay, Czech glass, Japanese laser-cut beads: these are only some of the materials used by Jeanette M. Norman to design her trilobitic fantasies.

Steampunk jewelrly meets trilobites: watch the process for realizing this works of art at Jake Von Slatt's blog! The artwork was inspired by the comic character Girl Genius, who wears a trilobitic jewel.

“Wearable trilobites” are not only jewels. Indeed these extinct arthropods are also found on Hannah Ingalls’ hats and on various kind of footwear. Nevertheless, the nearer "wearable trilobites" are represented by body art. For instance, the GeoArtist Glendon Mellow designed a flying trilobite tattoo for himself.  Are you curious? I will start from him in the next issue dedicated to trilobites in visual arts! 
Hannah Ingall's hat. More "little purls of wisdom" here.


Trilobitic body art: images from the Tucson Show and the Discover magazine Blog. The last two are science celebrities: they are the philosopher of science Michael Ruse and the artist Glendon Mellow. We will meet Glendon in the next issue!