Last week in the middle of a huge blizzard, my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the opening of the “Nano, Micro, Macro – A matter of scale” art show at the Duderstadt Center on the campus of the University of Michigan.
This remarkable art show features work from three very different artists. There’s A. John Hart who creates and photographs structures at the nanoscopic scale using an electron microscope. Then there’s Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez who paints images inspired by the things she sees under a conventional microscope. And finally a good friend of mine, Leslie Sobel, who manipulates satellite images into wondrous pieces of art.
From left to right: Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez,
A. John Hart, & Leslie Sobel
A. John Hart’s work is captivating. His photos are “other-worldly”, showing us things that are only visible using an electron microscope. He gained some fame in 2008 with his “Nanobama” images, nanoscopic reproductions of iconic Barack Obama face by Shepard Fairey (website HERE.) The techniques he uses are described on his Nanobliss website and his images have been featured in Science, Nature, New Scientist, Technology Review, Der Spiegel, American Scientist, SEED Magazine, PC Magazine, Playboy, Wired, and hundreds of other media outlets worldwide.
This image, titled Applause is a scanning electron microscope image of carbon nanotube microstructures on a silicone substrate. Each of the nanotube microstructures is less than a millimeter tall.
Applause – A. John Hart (2006)
Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez’s work are large, colorful paintings. Although they are not representational in terms of being exact reproductions of the microscopic life forms she sees under the microscope in her work as an aquatic ecologist, her images are inspired by these microscopic creatures. On the floor of the gallery is a screen on which real images taken of microscopic fauna are shown. This allows viewers to see that what appear to be whimsical, fantastic creations on her canvases are actually no more fantastic than the microscopic creatures that are all around us in ponds, lakes, rivers and streams and other places where water collects.
From her artist’s statement:
In my world, art and science belong together. Both inform my work, influencing the approach and also the subjects. Observation, experimentation, improvisation, making comparisons, searching for patterns and truth all come together within the creative process.
In the current exhibit, you will find creatures and forms inspired by my work as an aquatic ecologist witnessing life using a microscope. These are visions of life forms that do not exist, other than in my canvases. These alternative realities developed in front of my eyes and it was a thrill to observe them grow. The process has been almost as magical as to discover real creatures under the microscope and find their names in Latin and Greek: Micrasterias denticulata, Pediastum tetras, Oscillatoria tennuis…
But reality is larger than imagination, and perhaps we will encounter these forms in the water the next time around.
This is one of the images in the gallery. Titled Channels, it is four feet high and 2½ feet wide.
Channels – Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez
Leslie Sobel works with the encaustic process which is basically painting with wax. She describes it this way:
Encaustic is a very ancient painting medium comprised of filtered beeswax combined with pigments for color and damar resin to increase the surface durability. Encaustic is worked in a molten state. The wax is heated, applied and manipulated with regular paintbrushes and a number of less traditional tools including a propane torch, a heat gun of the sort used for stripping paint, dental tools, razor blades, putty knives & smooth pebbles. For me it is both an additive and a subtractive process – painting wax on and scraping parts off to obtain a desired surface.
Sobel’s artistic statement talks more about her process:
I’ve been working with satellite images – some provided locally, some downloaded from the NASA website. I manipulate these images digitally and combine them with other informational systems, such as topographic maps and climatologic charts that relate to the geographic area of the images I choose. Then, I print the images on my large format archival inkjet printer and mount them on cradled panels.
The next stage of my process is the painterly phase, where I work into the printed surface with encaustic, oil pastels, palladium leaf and a variety of natural materials. The Asian papers I often print on tend to disappear when combined with encaustic. The two-part process of my work integrates technology and nature, echoing my thematic exploration of the interconnected environment. Encaustic lasts for thousands of years with colors remaining vivid and bright, yet the surface is a bit soft and vulnerable. The result is that the final works are both durable and fragile, much like the earth.
I started doing this series focused on polar regions but lately have branched out into Michigan focused areas and looped back to areas where water is a scarce and particularly vulnerable resource.
This image is titled Northern Aerial:
Northern Aerial – Leslie Sobel
Three very different artists working in three very different mediums and at three very different scales. Combined it shows us things that all around us in our worlds yet they are things that very few of us ever see. It takes artists like Hart, Adlerstein-Gonzales, and Sobel to show them to the rest of us.
The show runs through March 12th at the Duderstadt Center and admission is free. I know you will simply love this exhibit. Check it out!
More images from the show and information about the artists can found a Sobel’s blog Painting With Fire.
I’m just sayin’…
All photos by Anne C. Savage