Tag Archives: London

1.21 Gigawatts: Artist Spotlight – John Conway, Bringing Dinosaurs Back

 

-Sarah Keartes

London-based artist John Conway spends his time in many walks of life—prehistoric life, that is.

Conway focuses on two genres of art: “paleontological reconstruction and, well, everything else,” a combination which allows for breathtaking imaginative overlap.

“John’s art melds illustrative skill and a variety of approaches with scientific detail and imagination,” science writer Brian Switek, who specializes in evolution, paleontology, and natural history, told Flux in an interview.

The path to creating accurate representations of prehistoric flora and fauna is riddled with challenges—the biggest perhaps being the initial research.

“Things are particularly difficult for artists here, even the most scientifically minded of us,” Conway said. “Scientific literature simply isn’t written with the problems of artists in mind; the crucial information on the appearance of fossil animals and environments can be spread across hundreds of papers, and even then there are huge gaps.”

Reconstructing plant life is particularly difficult as a decent-sized painting might have dozens of species, and gathering information on each is a daunting task.

“I’ve been putting a lot of effort into this over the last couple of years, and I’m still nowhere near where I’d like to be,” he said.

Conway’s fascination with paleontology began during childhood. Sparked by Bob Baker’s book The Dinosaur Heresies, his love for dinosaurs quickly intertwined with his passion for art.

“Certainly by the time I was fifteen, I was very into painting—especially nineteenth century landscape painters, and some modernists, as well as the paleontological artists,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Conway to dive into his own paleo-art career. At seventeen, he went to work for a museum in his hometown of Canberra, Australia, where he painted life-sized murals behind the dinosaur skeletons. Six years later, it was time for bigger and better.

“I grew up in a very dull city,” he said. “I left [Canberra] at age 23, while halfway through a philosophy/biology degree, to take up a very glamorous job working in Hall Train Studios making pterosaurs and dinosaurs.”

Hall Train, located in Ontario, Canada, is one of the leaders in the design and creation of exhibit paleo-environments, which are featured in natural history museums, science centers, and theme parks around the world, as well as one of the world’s foremost suppliers of dinosaur animation for television.

Credit: John Conway
“A year later, I moved to London and have been freelancing successfully (and mostly unsuccessfully) ever since…the money is terrible” Conway said.

On occasion Conway is challenged with completely reconstructing animals from the fossils, up. To do this, he must first draw all of the individual bones and assemble the skeleton, then comes the challenge of reconstructing muscles and other soft tissue using relatives through phylogenetic bracketing.

Greg Paul and, more recently, Scott Hartman have done an amazing job recreating dinosaur skeletons—I use those where available,” he said.

Conway’s non-paleo-art spans a vast variety of subjects, from alien life forms, to abstract representations of lyrics and mythologies, to beautifully obscure portraits of musical instruments.

“I’m very jealous of music and its apparently privileged connection to emotion in our brains. I have the rhythm of a drunken caffeinated turkey,” he said jokingly. “It has recently dawned on me that I will not live long enough to become a composer, an architect, a city planner, a singer-songwriter, an academic philosopher, a filmmaker, a paleontologist, a novelist, an engineer, a rock-star programmer, a shipbuilder, and a Lego-set designer.”

Though there is a distinct separation between Conway’s paleontological art and the rest, all of his work shares a similar aesthetic. He has an incredible ability to create life and motion is his computer-native art, much of which is still life recreation.

“He does far more than try to get the dinosaurs right: he gives them a kind of vitality that is sometimes lost in attempts where technical details trump the goal of trying to restore the animals as they once lived,” science writer Switek said. “People want to know what these animals looked like, and so it warms the cockles of my petrified heart to see John and other artists really do their homework while pushing the boundaries of what we can imagine about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals… Their work helps bring new science out to the public, and I am very thankful for that.”

Conway’s art has been featured worldwide, in countless blogs, publications, and in documentaries for National Geographic, BBC, and the Discovery Channel. Most exciting was the internet response to his book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals.

“In 2012 I decided to pursue a direct-to-people strategy of selling my work… All Yesterdays seemed like the most complete, and best suited of our various projects,” Conway said.

The beautifully illustrated book, which was co-written by C.M. Kosemen and Darren Nash, helped define a new paleo-art movement and is recognized as a celebration of Mesozoic life.

“It’s been amazingly well received critically and got heaps of coverage,” Conway said. “Though we are far from the only artists to produce the kinds of reconstructions you see in the book, I think it has come at just the right time, giving articulation and focus to what many of us have been feeling about paleontological reconstruction latterly.”

For Conway, paleontological art is about more than simply science communication.

“Honestly, such a goal would bore me. I think it should also have another goal, which has to do with enriching our lives through aesthetic experiences—shifting our feelings of the world,” he said

Want to know more about John Conway and his art? Visit his website or contact him on Twitter.

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TIRED OF LONDON

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” -Samuel Johnson

Hey, you know Samuel Johnson? Fuck that guy.” -Truman Capps

I’ve been in London for just over two months now. At the time of this writing, I have exactly two weeks left before I jump on a plane and fly back to the United States. To be honest, I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve seen Big Ben and Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. I’ve had lunch in St. James Park and made faces at the guards at Buckingham Palace.

I’ve hung out in Trafalgar Square, had dinner in SoHo, and thoroughly perused the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Imperial War Museum, and the British Library. I’ve taken a stroll through the Tower of London and across the adjacent London Tower Bridge.

I’ve taken the obligatory tourist picture straddling the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. I’ve ridden a boat down the Thames. I’ve seen 10 Downing Street.

I got as close as possible to Battersea Power Station. I’ve seen three productions at the British National Theater and two at the Globe. I’ve eaten enough fish and chips, bangers and mash, and chicken tikka masala to choke a donkey.

I had wanted to visit Slough, setting of the original UK version of The Office, today so that I could see the building from the opening titles that is ostensibly the headquarters of Wernham-Hogg Paper Company. But I did some research today and discovered that a trip to Slough would take an hour and a half, one way, requiring multiple bus transfers and the purchase of a train ticket that would cost several pounds. Then, once in Slough, I would take a picture of the building that was shown at the beginning of every episode of a TV show I liked, then turn around and spend an hour and a half making my way back home.

Let’s just pretend I took this picture.

Having not done it, I feel sort of stupid, because really – do I have anything better to do? I’ve exhausted my tourism opportunities in the city (save for the changing of the guard, which I’ll see tomorrow, and the London Eye, which I’ll ride in my last week here, if at all), so my last couple of weekends have been spent kicking around Harrow or doing homework, with a fair amount of time spent daydreaming about whatever my internship situation winds up looking like for the summer.

But that’s the thing – I’ve been a tourist for so long now that I’m kind of getting sick of it. I miss just being a resident. I miss not feeling the need to pull out my camera every time I see something interesting. “Wow, the Steel Bridge looks pretty nice today… Eh, why take a picture? It’ll be here tomorrow. In Portland. Where I live.”

London is a gigantic city, and I’m not going to be the dumbass who suggests that I’ve seen everything it has to offer in two months. There’s undoubtedly more stuff to see in this city – fascinating little museums, street markets with free samples, red phone boxes with interesting pornographic leaflets in them – but I feel as though I’m almost fed up with seeing.

Every cathedral is very impressive for the first few seconds after you walk into it – it’s a massive indoor space with light shining through stained glass. They were designed to be impressive sensory experiences. What the original architects didn’t bargain for was the fact that one day, the people seeing cathedrals would be study abroad students who see at least two cathedrals a week.

And museums – oh, the museums. I’ve had so many maps and audio guides thrust into my hands, wandered through so many dusty rooms wondering “How much longer should I stare at this arrowhead?

Because of the short duration of my study abroad session in England, I’ve been forced to dive headfirst into pretty much everything. I haven’t had time to space out my museum visits over several months or get acclimated to the city at a reasonable pace – not that I wish my study abroad excursion was longer (for reasons I’ll cover in a later update).

Essentially, my time here, while it has been a life changing, kickass experience that I wouldn’t give up for the world, has also been essentially one big culture binge, and going on a two month binge of any sort is bound to burn you out eventually, be it heroin or English history.

Heroin will probably catch up with you a little faster.

Truman Capps has not gotten burned out on the deep fried foods, though, as tonight’s dinner proved.

Dresden

– Truman Capps

A few weeks ago, I visited London’s Imperial War Museum, which is basically one giant monument to the fact that if you live in the world, England has tried to kill your ancestors (or maybe even you—holla back, Ireland!).

In the basement of the museum was the Blitz exhibit, where groups of tourists were herded in small groups into a little faux World War II era bomb shelter which would vibrate slightly while recordings of explosions played, to simulate the experiences of Londoners taking shelter from Nazi bombs. Afterwards, a little door opened and we were ushered out into a replica of a bombed out London street, which would have been a very powerful moment had the whole thing not looked like it had been built out of cardboard boxes by someone who had never been to England.*

*So as rides go, I’d rate it below Disneyland’s Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, but above everything at Great America.

What I found most interesting about the experience, though, was that a group of German tourists about my age was in the exhibit with us. As I watched them sitting in the fake shelter, listening to the fake bombs dropped by fake Germans, I thought, Yeah. How do you like them apples, bitches?

And when we stepped out onto the fake-destroyed street, in spite of its crappiness I wanted to turn to the Germans and yell, “Look what you did! Look what you did! Go back to your weinerschnitzel and your disturbing pornography; your kind aren’t wanted here! I hope the in-flight movie is Inglourious Basterds!

So even though the Blitz exhibit wasn’t great, it was sufficient to inspire me with blind, ignorant hatred of other nationalities, which is, I suppose, as good of an English history lesson as you’re going to get.

This whole situation got turned on its head when I visited Dresden.

Dresden is a charming little city of about 500,000 along the Elbe in Germany, perhaps best known as the place that got the absolute shit bombed out of it by the Allies late in World War II. It was during this bombing that Kurt Vonnegut, at the time an American prisoner of war, took shelter in the basement of Slaughterhouse-Five, an event which inspired his book, Slaughterhouse-Five.*

*Or, as I like to call it, Not Cat’s Cradle.

Historians estimate that the bombing and resultant firestorm in Dresden, a cultural center that was of very little military significance, killed between 24,000 and 40,000 people, most of whom were civilians fleeing the war. To cap off this grand historical douche-chill, the rail yards and factories on the outskirts of town, which were the only significant elements of the Nazi war machine in the area, weren’t targeted. It was America’s first foray into wartime assholery; fruitful years in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq lay ahead.

While the basement of the Imperial War Museum is a record of the Blitz in London, virtually all of central Dresden is a living record of the city’s destruction at the hands of Americans. At the center of the city, there’s a new cathedral that’s a replica of a cathedral destroyed in the war, partially constructed out of rubble of the first cathedral.

In the museum downtown, there’s a lot of information to be had about just how many priceless works of art and architecture were lost in the bombing. On the February 13 of every year, the anniversary of the bombing, the people of the city come together to protest war.

Needless to say, Dresden was sort of an embarrassing place to visit as an American. Whenever I would sheepishly ask a waiter if he or she spoke English, I always thought I could catch a glimpse of a steely look in their eye that said, “Oh, well—an American, here to survey the damage. Bad news—if you drop incendiary bombs on your currywurst, we’re not bringing you another one.”*

*This could also just be my reaction to the German language. At one point during my stay, I tried to walk into a bar that was in the process of closing. The manager came around the bar and briskly explained to me, in German, that they were no longer open, which was a traumatic experience for me because no matter what you’re saying in German, it sounds like, “I WILL CRUSH YOU!”

The city’s destruction gave Dresden a chance to rebuild, which they did in a variety of postmodern styles that now make Dresden something of an architectural landmark. While they still remember the past, it looks as though the people of Dresden were able to move beyond it and focus on the future. Hopefully the next time I’m looking at a piece of World War II history with a German, I’ll be able to do the same thing.

Do you see what I did there? Metaphor. You’re damn right I’m a journalism major.

Truman Capps uses metaphor extensively on his blog, Hair Guy.

The Texas Embassy

– Truman Capps

When I first saw the building flying a Lone Star flag with ‘THE TEXAS EMBASSY’ written underneath it only a block away from Trafalgar Square, I thought, “Well, that’s it – London officially sucks now.” Then, I realized that it was not an actual embassy but instead a Tex-Mex restaurant right in the heart of London*.

*It’s directly adjacent to a building with big Canadian flags on it which I assume is the Canadian Embassy. And when I say Canadian Embassy, I’m pretty sure that it’s the governmental sort of embassy as opposed to a tourist trap Canadian cuisine restaurant. Although, knowing Canada, it could also be both – you might be able to chat with the ambassador over poutine, Miller High Life, and some smokes (which, naturally, are on the dessert menu.)

I vowed, when I first saw The Texas Embassy, that I would never go there. But I’ve been here for five weeks, nearly six, and Mexican restaurants are so rare that I’ve taken a picture of every one I’ve seen in all of my travels in the greater Southern England area (for a total of maybe three pictures).

In the desert, water is more valuable than gold – the good thing about the desert, though, is that you can fill up a canteen with water to take with you. Fajitas, on the other hand, don’t fit into a canteen very well, and they stink like the dickens before too long.

Thursday had been a rough day for me, thanks to two consecutive delayed trains and an ancient printer making me uber-late for class. Upon leaving school, my entire day stretching ahead of me and a weeklong trip to Europe starting the next day, I knew there was only one thing I could do to lift my spirits before my midterm vacation:

I had to have some Mexican food.

And sure, I would’ve loved to have gone to one of the little Mexican places I’d spotted in SoHo, but the fact of the matter is that London is an easy city to get lost in, what with its winding streets and even windier alleys, and I didn’t remember exactly where these restaurants were. The only Mexican place I knew the exact location of was The Texas Embassy.

God dammit.

I stepped inside and was seated by an Eastern European waiter whose English was not very good. The walls were adorned with big Southwestern/Mexican themed murals – banditos, fiestas, and The Alamo, with a few aged Texas vanity plates (‘HEYHALL’) tacked up for good measure.

When I got back from the bathroom, I found that the waiter had left a basket of corn chips and a little bowl of salsa on my table – this was encouraging, as in London they are very reluctant to give you anything for free. When you order curry, you’re really only ordering the sauce and the meat – you’ve got to pay an extra 2 pounds for the rice, unless you want to sit around eating straight curry sauce like some kind of douche.

I opened the menu as I devoured my free chips and looked over everything. Chips and salsa were listed on the appetizer menu (subtitled, “The first batch is on the house!”, so as to reassure you that they hadn’t already charged you for what you were eating). The menu was pretty small and significantly more Tex than Mex, but when the waiter finally arrived to take my order, I asked for a chimichanga and called it good.*

*When relating this experience to my host family later, my host sister stopped me and said, “Wait – what’s a chimichanga?”

As I sat around, waiting for my food, my drink conspicuously empty yet ignored and unrefilled, I noticed that the music playing the restaurant, which had at first been vaguely Latin, was now some old timey crooner of the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett variety, which clashed pretty hard with the Wild West motif on the walls. This furthered my suspicion that, to Englanders, Manhattan is ten miles away from Houston, which is fifteen miles away from Los Angeles.

At long last, my Eastern European waiter came by and dropped off my food, saying, “Here you go, boss,” before walking away. This line sounded about as natural as Carmen Electra’s breasts.

I dug into my food, which, as I had expected, was pretty damn sub-par. The rice was full of frozen pea and carrot squares and the chimichanga was bland overall. What’s more, this little experiment cost me 15 pounds.

I wanted to stand up on my chair and shout to the British people in the restaurant:

Attention, British people! Do not eat here and think that you don’t like Mexican food – this is not what Mexican food is like! For you see, I come from a place called America, wherein one is entitled to as many free chips and salsa as he wants, and the food doesn’t taste like cardboard wrapped in cardboard! They don’t have to force a Mexican atmosphere because actual Mexicans work there, and unlike here, the waiters are so attentive that you barely have time to eat because you’re so busy telling them how good the food is!

Instead, I paid with cash and left. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.

Truman Capps does this twice a week on his blog, Hair Guy.

Waking up in England

– Truman Capps

How can I concisely describe my initial impressions of England without sounding like a total idiot?

England looks exactly like it does in all the movies made in England.

England is distinctly English, if you know what I mean.

Everything in England is different from everything in America – it’s like a whole ‘nother country over here!

God damn it…

Specifically, everything is smaller. The houses in England – even in Harrow, where I’m staying, a bedroom community that is more or less London’s equivalent of Beaverton – are far smaller than any I’ve seen on the West Coast. In many cases the houses are jammed wall to wall in a tight row, and few (if any) have front yards.

I feel pretty lucky, because my host family set aside two rooms for the American students; one spacious and open, and the other one slightly smaller than my walk in closet back in Portland. Because I showed up first, I got the larger room, forcing my housemate to live in a room that makes an elevator look huge and breezy.

My room, which I’m already doing my best to crapify.

Cars are also smaller across the board, because fuel is more expensive    here and so car designs tend more toward fuel efficiency and less toward “just so you know, my dick can be seen from space” like they do  in the United States. Cars are streamlined and compact. There are no  trucks, and essentially no SUVs. Even the police drive the sort of cars  you’d expect someone’s mom to drive, albeit with a pretty garish  paintjob.

On the flip side, though, London itself is huge. The city’s official population is 8 million, but according to one of our professors, that grows to 12 million every day as people commute into the city for work. That’s 4 million people, which is more than the population of Oregon, flowing in and out of the city every day. That means that at noon on any given day, one out of five people in England are in London.

And unlike Los Angeles and the greater LA County area, which boasts a larger population but sports uniformly deserted streets, London actually feels like a huge city. The streets are thick with people – joggers, cyclists, businessmen, families, the elderly, dog walkers, tourists, and ever-ubiquitous maintenance workers (who all wear day-glo yellow reflector uniforms).

One thing London is short on is homeless people – I’ve traversed a fair  amount of downtown over the past couple of days, and so far I’ve only seen  one bum slumped against a building. Compare this to Los Angeles, where  bums are often the only people who aren’t driving, or Portland, where in Old  Town I’ve had rival bums fight one another for the right to panhandle me, or  Eugene, which Matt Groening once described (speaking through Futurama’s Bender) as a candidate for the ‘biggest hobo jungle in the  quadrant.’

The lack of bums could be explained by the fact that everything in London is  more expensive – a fact that even native Londoners such as my host family  agree on. A pub I visited yesterday was charging 10 pounds for fish and  chips, and houses an hour away on the Underground outside the city still cost in excess of four-hundred thousand pounds. The high prices are a double whammy for Americans, too, because currently the pound is worth about $1.50. This results in twofold outrage when at a store – an American sees an unreasonably high price for something he needs and is shocked and appalled, and then multiplies that price by 1.5 in order to figure out how much he’s actually spending.

The pub of which I speak

Over the next few days, I’ll be doing my absolute best not to accidentally spend myself into financial ruin. Then, I intend to do some legitimate sightseeing so that I can write about it, instead of continuing with this Jerry Seinfeld observational bullshit.

Truman Capps maintains a personal blog, Hair Guy, where he posts additional updates from his time overseas.