International Artists Dive Headfirst into Science

28 June 2013


Cocoons by Gretta Planchon Allen, Finalist, Paintings, Waterhouse 2013.

The South Australian Museum is set to be the hot source of discussion and debate about art and science as it unravels the latest selection of artworks chosen as finalists in the 2013 Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize.

Judges’ votes are in and more than 100 superb finalist artworks chosen. They explore themes across all scientific disciplines and the natural world.

The works will be on display at the South Australian Museum from 20 July – 8 September, before going on tour to the National Archives in Canberra.

Now in its 11th year, the name of the prize has been changed from the ‘Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize’ to the ‘Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize’ to better reflect its mission to encourage artists and audiences to engage with science and the global issues that face us.

Prize founder and Head of Special Projects at the South Australian Museum Mark Judd, said “the main reason for the change is to encourage artists to address contemporary and issues of biodiversity, habitat depletion, climate change, physics, chemistry, palaeontology and others, and use their imagination to inspire and delight our visitors.

“The idea still embraces natural history art as a subset but the Waterhouse goes beyond science illustration. Finally, we want to emphasise and promote the core work of natural science research at the South Australian Museum.”

He said the Prize concept has evolved greatly since its inception: “When we first started, we didn’t allow any reference to humans – no people or human influences such as cleared paddocks or birds on fences could feature in the artworks. All these constrictions have now been dropped,” he said.

In a first this year, the overall winner will be chosen by leaders in both the arts and sciences — Professor Andy Austin from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity and James Darling, artist, farmer and conservationist — and will be awarded $50,000.

Finalists have been chosen from all over Australia and the world – including entrants from Italy and the United States. In the categories of Paintings, Works on Paper, Sculpture and Youth, artists have used their chosen media to engage with an array of scientific ideas.

In her painting Cocoons, finalist Gretta Planchon Allen (SA) presents two confronting images to evoke questions about pollution and the impact of industry on wildlife.

“Transformation, the infiltration of plastics into the environment and nature’s resilience, have all inspired this piece. It's tantalising to imagine what creature is cocooned within — one perhaps that has been forced to adapt to the invasion of non-organic materials,” she said.

In his work on paper Hand.. scale.. claw.. Galapagos iguana, NSW finalist Bernard O’Grady portrays the Galapagos Islands as a hotspot for understanding evolution.

“The pattern, texture and lines that make up the iguana’s skin, mirror the complexity of evolution, reflecting the diversity of life born out of the immense timescale where claw becomes hand, scale, skin,” he said.

'The Art of Patience' by Kate Bergin, Finalist, Paintings, Waterhouse 2013.

The Art of Patience by Kate Bergin, Finalist, Paintings, Waterhouse 2013.

Some artists use more comical means in their exploration of wildlife and nature. Kate Bergin’s (VIC) work The Art of Patience: “This unlikely group of creatures is in a state of waiting and watching. Like Beckett’s tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, we can imagine these characters variously resting, chatting or arguing, waiting for the call that will make sense of it all,” she said.

The Waterhouse is not just a chance for artists to engage with our scientific research and contribute to artistic dialogue on key issues. It also continues to provide both emerging and established artists with further career opportunities. As Australia’s only prize of its kind, the Waterhouse is an important addition to artists’ CVs.

Artist Sara Menon from Italy explores themes surrounding biology, and won first prize in the botany section of the Oasis Disegna La Natura Prize in 2012. She says the Waterhouse is an important prize around the world, because “it is a great opportunity to show my work and to discover the talent and also the different techniques of other artists, and natural science art. Australia has got an uncommon natural science heritage and this prize could be the ‘artistic’ way to preserve it,” she said.

The Prize is also a key platform for artists who represent Aboriginal Australian stories linked to the land. Dianne Robinson (SA and NT) paints wildflowers (putipula), Spinifex grass (tjanpi), rocks (apu), water (kapi), rock holes (tjukula), creekbeds (karu) and many suns (tjukla tjuta).

She says the Waterhouse offers an opportunity for people to appreciate the Australian desert in a new way: “I like to paint wild bush flowers and Tjukurpa (dreaming) designs are good to paint. I like other people who don't live here to see the natural colours and landscape that we have here on our land,” she said.

“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.”


About the Competition

The Waterhouse broke three new records in 2012: the first Aboriginal Australian artwork to win the overall prize in the event’s ten-year history, a record number of entries and record attendance of more than 13,200 visitors.

The Prize is open to all artists from Australia and overseas. It is an acquisitive prize: South Australian Museum retains the overall winning piece. Winners receive the following prize money:

  • Overall Winner $50,000 (acquisitive)
  • Category Winners $12,000
  • Youth Art Prize Winner $5,000
  • People’s Choice Award $5,000
  • Dr Wendy Wickes Memoriam Prize $5,000

The exhibition of winners and finalists in the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize is shown each year at the South Australian Museum. It will run from 20 July to 8 September 2013. Winning and highly commended entries tour to the National Archives of Australia from September to November.

For more information, visit The Waterhouse Natural Science Art 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 and Flower Room.