Art and Science go Head to Head in Waterhouse Wonderland

18 July 2013


It’s crunch time: top judges have gathered to carefully hand-pick the cream of the crop in this year’s Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize.

Anxious finalists are hoping their paintings, sculptures and works on paper will be deemed worthy for the top $50,000 prize and Overall Winner title in the international competition, while South Australian Museum staff are preparing for a spectacular Gala Launch to celebrate the stunning gallery of thought-provoking finalist artworks.

Entrants have gone to great lengths to get up close and personal with the natural environment, trekking through wilderness areas, studying tiny organisms or working alongside scientists to better understand their craft.

Now in its 11th year, the Waterhouse has undergone a name and branding makeover to better match its mission to be the leading competition encouraging excellence in scientific art around the world.

For the first time, the overall winner will be selected by judges from both the science and arts fields.

Renowned South Australian Artist James Darling will be judging the overall winner alongside University of Adelaide Scientist Professor Andy Austin.

James Darling, left (courtesy SA Life magazine, Adelaide, Australia) and Professor Andrew Austin.

James Darling, left (courtesy SA Life magazine, Adelaide, Australia) and Professor Andrew Austin.

Mr Darling says the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize an important fixture in the art world.

“Many of the most well-known Australian art prizes have a limited, concentrated focus. The portraiture of the Archibald, or the landscape painting of the Fleurieu Art Prize, are two examples of high profile art prizes with specific and defined parameters.

“The Waterhouse Prize challenges artists to break down conventional barriers between art and science and assert the singular role of science in our lives, our world, our universe.”

The Waterhouse presents a unique opportunity for people of diverse disciplines to gather together and examine the different ways they see the world. While scientists rely on fact and evidence, artists use feeling and imagination, and blur boundaries to challenge the way we understand what is in front of us.

Mr Darling believes, however, the two fields are not as foreign as we might think.

 “Contemporary understanding of the relationship between art and science remains problematic, as if distant and unrelated, rather than integral and interdependent.

“The principles of science are based on critically evaluated evidence. Science underpins culture: how we see, how we value, how we understand. In their simplicity, clarity and resonance, the principles of science are akin to poetry,” he says.

Professor Austin says the prize is important for scientists because they are able to see their research come to life. “It might be an orchid that has a particular shape to attract pollinators, the interaction between two organisms such as two moneys fighting, or a mother and juvenile penguin; all of those aspects have an intrinsic scientific impact in them. The art is about the impact on the viewer.”

Sifting through pages of his favourite science illustrations, Professor Austin remarks that the point at which a science illustration becomes an artwork can be hard to place.

“I think it’s the portrayal of an organism — a plant or an animal — that’s ‘alive’. Looking at the behaviour or relationships of organisms turns a picture into an artwork.”

The Museum’s Acting Director and Scientist, Professor Andy Lowe, believes this Prize epitomises Renaissance Period-style thought, where disciplines melded to help the student or professional achieve a greater understanding of the world around them.

“The concept of the polymath emerged during the Renaissance when great thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo excelled in multiple fields of the arts and science,” he says.

“The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize is, in my view, a harkening back to this humanist approach which encouraged versatility and a desire to acquire universal learning to develop one’s full potential.

“As a scientist, I know that collaboration between art and science can create debate, greater understanding and has the potential to generate new knowledge and ideas that benefit both fields. It can open up new ways of interpreting the world around us through exploration, creativity and collaboration.”

Artists around the world had a strong response to the Museum’s revitalised competition criteria. Challenged to push boundaries in their representations of science and the natural world, the entrants have thought deeply about their connection to the land, the creatures that inhabit it, and how they understand and are inspired by scientific processes.

From the tragedy of natural disaster to the beauty of rainbow birds, and textures of Australian rock to the unseen effects of pollution, more than 100 artists have submitted their take on the most pressing issues in natural science today.

Ceramic and glass artist Catherine Aldrete-Morris (Fitzroy, SA) has worked all around the world, including New Mexico, Scotland and Italy, and believes her visually rich and colourful works are inspired by her Mexican heritage. She believes Australia’s natural resources and biodiversity are important to value and aims to encourage this through her works.

“I enjoy the bringing together of the words ‘Natural’, ‘Science’ and ‘Art’”, she says.

“They indeed do adopt elements of the other/s to make it whole. For example, one can look at genetic patterns and see the patterns as artistic life rhythms… science studies nature and nature is art. The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize is an opportunity for different studies to come together in diverse art forms as a way of connecting.”

Finalist artists Ken and Julia Yonetani (Katoomba, NSW) often make works together which are inspired by environmental issues. “We like working with every day materials in unusual ways, or unusual materials in everyday ways. Materials include sugar, salt, and uranium glass,” says Ken.

“We often work in collaboration with scientists in our work and highly value the intersection between art and science. When (they) combine, they create new dialogues and openings to see and express in original ways.”

Matteo Grilli (Brisbane, QLD), says “I started drawing and painting nature in the Italian countryside and coastline. Then I spent some time along the west coast of Ireland which was a very inspiring place, teeming with wildlife and nature. I now live in Brisbane, Australia, and I enjoy seeing how wildlife lives in a very close contact with humans, even in cities.”

'Feathers of Australian Birds' by Matteo Grilli, Finalist, Works on Paper, Waterhouse 2013.

Feathers of Australian Birds by Matteo Grilli, Finalist, Works on Paper, Waterhouse 2013.

Inspired by natural relationships, Grilli understands the importance of his role as an artist and his responsibility in transmitting messages of science.

“Natural science mediated by artists is a valuable and powerful tool to take the wonders of nature closer to people.”

Indulkana (SA) artist Dianne Robinson feels a special connection to her country. She likes to represent the stories and colours of the land and build appreciation for its value.

“I paint wildflowers (putipula), Spinnifex grass (tjanpi), rocks (apu), water (kapi), rock holes (tjukula), creekbeds (karu) and many suns (tjukla tjuta),” she says.

“I like to paint wild bush flowers and Tjukurpa (dreaming) designs are good to paint.  I like other people that don’t live here see the natural colours and landscape that we have here on our land.  Some people think there is not a lot of colour and life in the desert and I hope by my paintings they see this country is very beautiful and important to look after.”

The South Australian Museum is expecting at least 15,000 visitors through its doors to see the finalists’ gallery of international and local works.

The winners of the overall $50,000 prize and the category winners will be announced at a press conference at the Museum tomorrow (19 July) at 10.30am.

Artists and special guests will celebrate the opening of the gallery of amazing works at a Gala Launch at the Museum that evening.

The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize Exhibition will show at the Museum from 20 July to 8 September 2013. Winning and highly commended entries tour to the National Archives of Australia in Canberra from September to November. Visitors to the Museum will have the chance to vote for their favourite work in the People’s Choice Prize and Dr Wendy Wickes Memoriam Prize.

The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize is supported by: Beach Energy; Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy; Fisher Jeffries; Finsbury Green; Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources; Adelaide Airport Ltd; 891 ABC Adelaide; The Adelaide Review; National Archives of Australia; Epicure Catering; Renniks Events; Richard Hamilton Wines; James Squire; Pro Show; Haigh’s Chocolates; Majestic Hotels; The Wedding & Flower Room.