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Painting in Awe of Science

“Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil.” Oil painted onto a slab of shale that the artist’s wife found discarded from a roof in Toronto. Copyright Glendon Mellow.

The Flying Trilobite blog was started two months ago by 32-year-old Glendon Mellow, a Toronto-based painter who’s inspired by evolutionary theory and “particularly fond of Naples yellow.” Mellow is also fond of ScienceBlogs, especially the “sassy and informative” commentary of Jason and PZ. Here, Glendon gives us his take on science and art in the digital world.

You say your favorite color’s Naples yellow. How come?
Most of my paintings have figures emerging from darkness as I paint, and I find the colour Naples yellow to be an excellent substitute for white. It helps give them a dim air. Many whites are too bright for organic bodies anyway. Also, Naples yellow is similar to pigments used in Babylon, c. 600 B.C., and that bit of trivia gives me a thrill of connection with history. Also, the fact it contains lead makes it a toxic colour, and I like the danger. >grin< What’s your favorite medium?
I have always enjoyed painting in oil, and drawing with a .3mm pencil. Some of my favourite artists (including Ryan Church, Jesse Graham, Jon Foster, and Nancy Eldridge) paint in oil, and then manipulate with Adobe or Painter programs, so I have begun dabbling in that as well.

Is it hard to show your work on a computer screen?
The difficulty in showing on a computer screen is finding the compromise between image clarity and load times. Other than that, the paintings are my little offspring, and I hope they are piquing interest as they go out into the world.

Why do evolution and biology appeal to you as an artist?
After reading River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins, I found myself drawing ideas I had read, such as the concept of Mitochondrial Eve, more and more often. So over the last few years, I have been buying and reading more books about science, usually about evolution (I like Bob Bakker, Dawkins, Richard Ellis, Richard Fortey, Matt Ridley, and Michael Shermer, to name a few). Much of my favourite art from the Renaissance and Symbolist periods are rich in visual metaphors, and I feel compelled to continue that tradition drawing upon our abundance of knowledge.

The current and continuing uproar of science vs. religion, or natural vs. supernatural interests me as an artist. Some say that Michelangelo felt moved by the holy spirit to paint as he did. (The threat of death from the Pope of the time probably moved things along as well.) I am painting from the uplifting feelings of amazement I get when I read something I had not understood before, or thought about.

So does your work have its own…niche?
The “ecosystem” of knowledge we have now increases our visual language. I think my paintings appeal to people who recognize diatoms and tardigrades and so on, and enjoy seeing them as part of a composition that’s mystifying or open to interpretation. Much of the fine art world today is intent on navel-gazing about the process of making art, and does not contain visual narrative. I guess that means I am on the path to being an illustrator, and I am very much enjoying being on that path.