OK… big subject!
Aesthetics play an absolutely essential role in pretty much everything I do, and that includes my biomedical art. I am very sensitive to aesthetic qualities, as well as being a colourist. That said, in my work, of course scientific accuracy must always prevail. This constraint is one of the intriguing challenges everyone in my profession faces, but it need never exclude aesthetic qualities – the subtlety of a line, the beauty of a curve, the richness of colour, or the sensitivity of a rendering. I feel passionately that it is these mysterious qualities that attract the viewer, hold their attention, and most importantly promote the learning process by engaging the senses as well as the intellect.
Joseph Campbell wrote that “A real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render… the ‘radiance’ of all things as an epiphany or showing forth of the truth”. Campbell’s words resonate in my core. It was the beauty of science that inspired me to complete degrees in both biology and biomedical visualization at the University of Toronto and it has been the inspiration throughout my career. Art has the power to transport us back to a child-like state of wonder and curiosity, engaging us in an experience that transcends science. Creating art with this goal in mind seems to me a singularly worthy aspiration.
I try to offer the viewer a fresh approach to any given subject whenever possible. I want to communicate my sense of wonder at the complexity and beauty of science. My aesthetic sensibility helps me do that. It is my view that a biomedical image is truly successful when the viewer gains both new information and a new perspective on the knowledge they already possess.
The Japanese aesthetic concept of Shibui is also very powerful in my aesthetic decision-making, especially in my fine art, which I create in a style I called evocative abstraction. Shibui relates to the mystery and subtle suggested meanings that are contained within a work of art, and reveres the quiet contemplative aspects of artistic expression.
With regard to colour, as I said, I am a colourist. I absolutely live for colour, lol, and part of my biomedical art’s signature look is the result of how I use colour to communicate and to excite interest. I use colour for emphasis, to add drama, to differentiate/contrast, to set a mood and for the pure joyful love of colour. I am so lucky that so much of what biomedical artists are asked to visualize these days is on a cellular or molecular level. Unless the art needs to comply with a branded colour palette, this allows a great deal of creative freedom. After all, what colour is a molecule?
Another important aesthetic consideration in my work has to do with my thinking regarding how a viewer sees a biomedical image at different distances. This is especially true for large images intended to be used as posters or as large format exhibits. First, an image must have a strong ‘poster effect’. By poster effect I mean a strong, striking, overall design that attracts a viewer’s initial attention, especially from a distance. This overall design must be appealing enough to draw a person in to take a closer look. The elements of that overall design can involve the use of shapes, composition, dramatic colour… Then, the viewer must be entranced by the beauty and complexity of the details and subtleties of a rendering. Those are the qualities that hold a viewer’s attention. Together, these qualities result in a viewer who is motivated to understand what is being shown.
Finally, one very personal part of the aesthetic value of my work derives from my never-ending desire to, whenever possible, present a scientific subject in a way it has never before been depicted, often by taking a very different/unique perspective or viewpoint. There again the goal is to capture the imagination and interest of the viewer. It’s always very exciting to hear the positive comments this gets from my clients and colleagues.
As for the general response to my work, my agent always tell me that people comment on either the beauty or uniqueness of my paintings. They often express surprise that even some pretty heavy medical subjects can still usually be translated into an image that is visually appealing. That’s the challenge!
I am humbled by some of the comments I get, especially when I often feel so very far from achieving what I envision. I guess that’s both the blessing and the curse of being an artist. It’s a never-ending, but joyful quest.