Tag Archives: Painting

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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Visually Oriented: Artist Profile – Ellie Howard

Artist

-Emily Fraysse

In her room that seems smaller than the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, Ellie Howard manages to pull four different copies of her latest print from her print-making class titled “Victory” out from underneath her white iron-cast bed. Her long blonde-ash locks are pulled back into a messy ponytail and her fingers, stained with different colored paints, are dead giveaways as to what she had been doing for the past six hours. Her room is plastered with ripped-out pages from fashion magazines, an American flag fan, a flag from Sienna, Italy, small cut-outs of famous paintings, a billboard collage of colored ribbons, and photos. Her voice is calm, yet she has a spark of laughter that’s contagious. Cracking jokes left and right, she sits Indian style upon her floral-printed bedspread as she tells me of her passion for art.

I got the privilege of talking with Howard, a senior and artist majoring in Studio Art and minoring in Art History at the University of Oregon.

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What inspires you the most?

“I don’t know how to narrow down what inspires me other than what strikes me at a moment. I was thinking of an instance that this happened to me the other day. In the EMU I saw this golden drinking fountain…. It had a plaque to commemorate somebody. [It was] in this weird stairwell that broke off and there was a brick wall with this golden drinking fountain. And I was like, ‘that’s the coolest thing ever.’ I felt like I wasn’t done thinking about it…. I really like flowers, I really like clothes and looking at what people are saying and doing.… It’s hard to narrow down. I have a lot of interests. I get a pull from all over.”

How long have you been making art?

“Since forever. I have one of those second memories like where you remember the incident, but you don’t remember anything else really. I was probably five-years-old and everybody was out playing on the playground. I was sitting alone drawing a picture of my family under a rainbow or something. In Kindergarten, when we had that sponge brush and we had all the different cut sponges. And we did the coolest thing ever… I was like ‘This. Is. Awesome!’ I think it sparked in Kindergarten.”

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What’s your favorite medium?

“There’s so many types of ways to make things which I definitely learned in undergrad. Taking printmaking, which is something you don’t do too much in high school if you take art. I really liked printmaking, but it was really stressful. It’s cool to be able to make copies of stuff. I really, really like painting, but it’s a struggle sometimes. It’s hard to be original and find satisfaction in your own work when there’re a lot of other people like that. A lot of people make art. I like all different mediums.”

Which era of art would you go back to and why?

“Probably the late 1800’s in Paris and England because they had these great exhibitions and it was so romantic, the notion that everyone was going out to see what had been painted. It was more in the public eye, which is cool. That’s why people make things for other people to look at.”

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Do you usually have an idea first and then create it or do you start off with a plank medium and work from there?

“It depends on the class. When I have a prompt, it’s kind of like going at it like a math equation or trying to think back to what I’ve thought about recently or what’s in my sketchbook or collage. If it’s a literary reference, I think about all my books or pick an image that is blank. You just fill in the blank with something that pertains to your interests. It’s almost easier coming up with something. The carrying out of it is the hard part because it never turns out exactly how you pictured; well, not never, just rarely.”

Ellie plans on graduating from the University of Oregon this Spring and moving back to her hometown of Lafayette, California where she will begin looking at internships abroad.

Four Students Bring their Visions to the Laverne Kraus Gallery

-Mike Munoz

If you’ve ever had a class or at least walked through Lawrence Hall on the north side of campus, you’ve probably noticed the art in the Laverne Kraus Gallery. Every week, the gallery gives students and local artists alike the opportunity to showcase their art in front of their peers. But if you’re heading to Lawrence Hall expecting a scene similar to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, you’ve got another thing coming.

This Monday, the Laverne Kraus Gallery opened “Visions: A Collective Art Show,” to a large group of family and friends looking to support the artists. The show features a wide variety of medium, including paintings, photography and graphic design of four University of Oregon students.

One of the featured artists, Rebecca Schnoor, kept viewers guessing with her digital interpretations of landscapes and natural images. Schnoor, a senior Digital Arts Major at the university of Oregon, had an entire wall covered with sixteen prints of landscapes broken down to their most basic, digital forms. “I’m pretty sure that’s a flower,” one spectator would guess. “No, I’m pretty sure that’s a mountain,” another would say. Despite a barrage of questions, Schnoor never revealed her secrets.

Schnoor also had a larger print on an adjacent wall, inspired by the patterns made by lava when it cools. The print is a vibrant collection of intermingling colors and shapes, each individually drawn by Schnoor through Adobe Illustrator. Right next to the print is a skateboard, drilled to a wall with the exact same pattern appearing on its underside. While it may not be your typical canvas, the skateboard certainly seemed to be a popular piece with multiple people asking whether or not it was for sale.

The show also featured the work of Brian Delumpa, Erik Bridgeford and David Mellor. Mellor’s corner of the gallery included paintings of several of his own characters, while Delumpa’s section featured large prints of some of his photography.

If you haven’t already had a chance to check out this show, I would highly recommend seeing it for yourself. Visions will be in Laverne Kraus Gallery until this Friday, so be sure to stop by before it’s all gone!

To see more of Rebecca Schnoor’s art, check out her website here.