Find out Geology in Art book, Follow Me :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Slices of Earth, Slices of Time

“Geological mapping involves more than just producing a colourful map to show the distribution of formations within a given area. The trained geologist is able to produce an interpretation of not only the surface rocks but also of their subsurface structure”
-         Lisle et al. (2011)

At the beginning of the 19th century, English geologist William Smith realized the first geological map of Britain or, with Winchester’s (2001) words “the map that changed the world”. Different colours were used to mark different rock units and their surface distribution. As seen in the last post, geological maps are true distillations of experience and, consequently, they share a common ground with the artistic process. It is not a case that geological maps and geological mapping often appear within an artistic context.William Smith did not focus on surface geology only, but he produced two-dimensional slices of Britain’s subsurface structure: geological cross-sections. 

Geological cross-section by William Smith. Picture from the Oxford Digital Library

An artistic cross-section and the Birdsongs of the Mesozoic.
In parallel to geological maps, cross-sections often present a marked aesthetic appeal, as shown by the beautiful album cover of ‘Faultline’ by the Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Similarly, geological cross-sections have been the subject for body art, as exemplified by the ‘cross-section tattoo’ portrayed in Zimmer and Roach (2011).
Still nowadays, cross-sections frequently complement geological maps in order to describe the three-dimensional structure of a given area, with the final aim of extrapolating the fourth dimension: time. Such fourth-dimensional nature is manifest in Laura Moriarty’s sculptural paintings, realized with layers of hot wax. With the artist’s words: “Referencing diagrams found in earth science textbooks, I study the way events and phenomena occur in the geological time scale, creating micro/macro records in paint of what I imagine happens below a terrain's surface”. The last sentence fits perfectly to the hand-coloured cross-sections made by Charles Darwin, who aimed to understand the subsurface geology of the Andes. In his Red Notebook, Darwin wrote “Geology of whole world will turn out simple”.
Geological cross-section as body art. Image from the Discover Magazine Blog.

'Subduction into Trench' by Laura Moriarty. From the artist's homepage.

Geological section sketched by Charles Darwin. Picture from the Cambridge University Library webpage.

Darwin's message is oxymorically conveyed by the colourful, abstract but concrete artworks of John ‘the Rock Doctor’ Jackson. With his geological hammer and a paintbrush, the artist explores both the surface and the subsurface of our planet. The result are forms and textures on canvas, true cognitive maps of the geological world. Although the depicted phenomena are complex, the Rock Doctor’s pictorial rendering makes them accessible either to the mind or the emotions. According to this viewpoint, Darwin’s optimistical thought sounds true.

'Gas Hunting' by John Jackson. The artwork is an artistic cross-section depicting a gas reservoir and its geological features.
'Window on the Worm' by John Jackson. Image from the Art and Soul Gallery.
John Jackson produces slices of Earth of various dimensions, from the scale of mountains to the minuteness of worm burrows. Indeed, in his ‘Window on the Worm’ the work of tiny organisms is manifested through their U-shaped burrows. In some cases, the effect of tiny burrowing organisms is so pervasive to modify entire ecosystems, severely affecting habitats and their inhabitants. This phenomenon, known as ecosystem engineering (Jones et al., 1994), can be seen in numerous human activities and poses important ethical questions. These points have been investigated by Jarod Charzewsky in his artwork ‘Scarp’, merging geological cross-sections and ecological awareness. I had the opportunity to explore this subject through a first-hand interview with Jarod Charzewsky himself.

In three sentences or less present yourself: Who are you and what you do?
I am an ambitious yet procrastinating surfer. Much like surfing, what I do is all about patience and timing. I wait for precisely the right moment and then I give it all I’ve got.

'Scarp' by Jarod Charzewsky. Image from the artist's webpage.

What inspired you to create "Scarp"?
The elementary school where I grew up in Winnipeg Canada had plenty of landfill sites, like most cities do. My high school was located on a landfill site. I use to imaging the layers of garbage beneath my feet. I thought what would it look like if I could cut away the earth to expose the wasted materials beneath my feet. I considered this idea as mankind reshaping our landscape with our discarded items. The idea stuck with me until now.
I love these renderings of a landfill. Its supposed to make sense of the chaos that is a landfill site.

Geology plays a huge role in this artwork. How would you describe its importance in your set?
I have spent a lot of time around Canada and North America and I have always felt an intuitive connection to the land. I spent time in the Alberta badlands where the geology of the region is abundantly exposed. These naturally formed layers made sense on the level of my landfill idea in fact this was the link I needed. I think most of us can identify with these stratified layers in one way or another. They are easy to be amazed with. The visual similarity is what makes my work accessible.

Particular from 'Scarp' by Jarod Charzewsky.

You used 5000 articles of clothing for realizing ‘Scarp’. Please give us some insight on your journey in making this artistic project.
At first I did not think the project was possible. I could not afford nor did I want to purchase all the materials for the piece so I quickly forgot about it.  Then in 2008, I got a residency at The Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art. This gave me two months inside a large gallery space – enough time to do what I wanted. If there ever was going to be a time to create the piece it was now.  I went to Goodwill Industries because I thought they might have the materials. I told them what I wanted to do and they understood it instantly and offered to loan me whatever I wanted. But only a loan. Everything would have to come back to Goodwill. I could not be happier with that arrangement. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck with all that clothing after the show came down.
Why did you choose clothes to realize ‘Scarp’?
This is a good question. When I went to Goodwill In 2008 I did not know what I was looking for. I knew I needed a lot of it and I was limited on how I could move the stuff around. Other things Goodwill had were ceramic plates and furniture. These were too heavy and fragile, but the clothing stood out right away. It was the most abundant material they had which meant they would be more eager to help with the project. Plus the colours and textures that I could acquire would make for a nice visual effect.

When a geologic section becomes art?
This is tough, when you think about it. You cannot just get some rocks and put it in some gallery and call it art. But it’s also easy. There is so much natural beauty in the world it doesn’t take much some times.

You realized many works focused on Nature. Which of these works do you consider ‘geologic’?
 Geology is in all of them I think. Some are more specifically about water flow and even more about what’s natural and what’s “simulated natural”. This is a paradox I exploit frequently. These terms are being exploited is our culture, usually to expand real estate or fossil fuel development. But I am not against growth but only to do it responsibly.

'The Geology of the New Earth' by Jarod Charzewsky.
Geology appears also in your ‘The Geology of the New Earth’. What media, what artistic metaphors have you used?
I like to use whatever I can find in the clothing. I did a piece in Calgary Alberta where I just happened to get 54 baseball hats. Or in Raleigh North Carolina I happened to find 238 men’s neckties. This is what helps link the work to the region where it’s installed. Somehow, and I am not use how, but those neckties are an indication of the societal condition of Raleigh NC. I like the thought of that.

You made vast use of technology in your ‘Tides’. What do tides look like through kinetic sculpture?
 I like to use the concept of tides as a metaphor for our changing landscape. It’s a poetic to think of the earth moving (naturally and unnaturally) with time like a tide. Currently, I live right on the Atlantic coast. Every time a storm comes through my favourite beach where I surf is different in its shape as the entire beach is moved or completely gone. It’s astonishing how fast it happens. Also the mining practice of mountain top removal. It’s amazing to think that there are companies that can and will move an entire mountain to extract the minerals within.

'Tides' a kinetic sculpture by Jarod Charzewski.
How important do you think it is for artist to know about geology, and why?
I can’t say it’s important for all artists in the same way that it’s not important for all artists to be familiar with the figure, but it can be helpful. To know where your materials come from and how they are made can be informative. I use a lot of plaster in the classes I teach. And I talk a lot about where gypsum comes from and how it’s turned into plaster. It informs what you make. The density of lumber in the past 10 years has reduced due to younger trees being harvested. This effects the strength and the weight of that you are building. We use plenty of iron ore and coke coal in our foundry at the College of Charleston. It helps to understand how expensive it all is if you know where it’s transported from. I guess it’s all about our natural resources and being aware of what it is that you use.

Lisle, R.J., Brabham, P., Barnes, J. (2011). Basic Geological Mapping. Fifth Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester

Jones, C.G., Lawton, J.H., Shachak, M. (1994). Organisms as ecosystem engineers. Oikos, 69: 373-386

Winchester, S. (2001). The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. Harper Collins, New York

Zimmer, C., Roach, M. (2011). Science ink: tattoos of the science obsessed. Sterling, New York

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Distilled Experiences

In his website, the influent artist Richard Long says: “my intention was to make a new art which was also a new way of walking: walking as art […] These walks are recorded or described in my work in three ways: in maps, photographs or text works, using whichever form is the most appropriate for each different idea. All these forms feed the imagination, they are the distillation of experience”.
The words of Richard Long provide a link to geologists, ‘distillers of experience’ through the act of walking. Indeed walking is the mean by which geologists record and interpret the landscape, while distillations come in a wide variety of forms. Among the commonest distilled experiences, geological field notes often provide appealing visual material. In some cases, the distinction between science or art is not obvious, such for the layers sketched by Leonardo da Vinci and Giovanni Arduino. 

The Arno valley sketched by Leonardo da Vinci. Note the accuracy in drawing sedimentary layers.
Geological section realized by Giovanni Arduino in 1758.
Nevertheless, geological maps are probably the most emblematic forms through which geologists distil their field experience. Geological maps show the spatial distribution of geological units with different colours, therefore they are usually rich in structure and patterns. It is not a case that they are often part of vibrant works of art.
For instance, Nien Schwarz used geologic maps in various artistic contexts. She used 55 grocery bags made from geologic maps (‘From Legend to the Market’), tectonic maps (‘Groundwork: an illustrated poem’), and hand-coloured geologic maps (‘Transpose’). With the words of the artist (Baucon, 2009): “Transpose is a recent painting with map collage. It is constituted by hand coloured  geologic  maps  1:67000  of  the Northern  Territory  in  Australia  dating from  the  1960s.  The  paint  is  made  with pure earth colours (no mixing of colours) –  pigments  and  rocks  I  have  collected over  the  years.  I  grinded  and  sieved  the rocks  and  matched  the  colours  in  the geologic map. This  painting  is  2040  high  by  1240 wide  and  70  mm  deep.  It  is  made  on  2 house  doors  covered  in  canvas  –  doors as  the  the  literal  and  symbolic  threshold between inside and outside – the divider between  nature  and  culture,  and  desire and need.”
Nien Schwarz used 55 grocery bags made from geological maps for realizing her 'From Legend to Market'. Picture from

Another excellent example is the art of Chris Drury, who created various artworks by weaving geological maps and topographical ones. 

Particular of 'On the Ground, above and below Wyoming' by Chris Drury. Picture from the artist's website.

Detail of the 'Geologist Series' by Perdita Phillips. Image from the artist's website.
 The mentioned examples show clearly how artworks and geological maps are both distillation of experience in the field. At this regard, Perdita Phillips artistically described the act of geological mapping in her ‘Geologist Series’. She accompanied a field geologist in the Kimberly region (Australia) and recorded the  everyday tools and practices of art and science. The artist was  interested  “in  the similarities  and  differences  between artists  who  walked  in  the  field  (i.e. walking  as  an  art  medium)  and scientists who performed fieldwork” (Baucon, 2009).
Intriguingly, this concept reconciles with the words (and the art) of Richard Long. According to the principle of the ‘distillation of experience’, art and geology are languages for describing the world. When I interviewed Perdita Phillips on the subject, she gave an illuminating answer: “Imagine two outstretched hands flat out in front of you that rub up against each other. This is how I see art and science in  the  field:  their  practices  are  parallel and  sympathetic  and  ultimately  both aim to explain the world around them – the difference is in how the observer is situated in the self-same world”.
Du Noyer is among the authors of this geological map. Detail from IHM.
This interpretation is supported by the work of a 19th century geological celebrity: Georges Victor Du Noyer. Field geologist and artist, Du Noyer surveyed vast areas of Ireland and produced accurate geological maps. At the same time, he described his study areas through delicate watercolours, illustrating the beauty of many geological structures. It is manifest that Du Noyer’s geological maps and artworks are the distillation of the same experiences: geology and art are connected by a vibrant line of continuity.

Watercolor by Georges Victor Du Noyer depicting folds in the Old Red Sandstone. The outcrop is located near Mallow, in the same area of the geologic map above. Image from the GSI website.


Baucon A., 2009. Geology in Art. An Unorthodox Path from Visual Arts to Music., 120 pages

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Patterns, Geology and Art: the Invisible Landscapes of Enrico Serpagli

“Geology is a science of connection to our real environment, informed by the action of signs, a geosemiosis, that leads investigators on a fruitful course of hypothesis generation”

- Victor Baker (1999)

Keeping with Baker (1999), geological reasoning is inextricably tied to the objects of investigation. However, earth scientists are not only interested in geological objects, but in their spatial and temporal distribution too. For this reason, pattern finding is of vital importance for geologists. In fact, from the scale of the Benioff zone to the minute details of microfossils, regularities are crucial for interpreting geological processes.
Not surprisingly, geological eyes are particularly sensitive to patterns, as beautifully expressed by the art of Enrico Serpagli. Among the most influential Italian paleontologists, Enrico Serpagli is also a specialist in finding aesthetic patterns within natural and artificial objects.It is not a case that one of his exhibits was entitled “Il Senso dell’Ordine” (“The Sense of Order”), including astonishing patterns of colour and shape.

Patterns in the art of Enrico Serpagli. Photo from

 However, the detailed photographs of the artist are not mere recordings, but true visions of the invisible. This concept is expressed in his new exhibit, “Paesaggi Invisibili” (“Invisible Landscapes”), set in the historical town of Sassuolo (31 March – 22 April 2012; Paggeria Arte, Piazzale della Rosa, Palazzo Ducale, Sassuolo, Italy). Although the exhibit is not specifically devoted to geological themes, a geological ‘invisible landscape’ from Yellowstone is among the exhibited artworks.
From an analytical point of view, ‘Invisible Landscapes’ offers the amazing possibility of seeing the role of patterns for the geological artist. However, I prefer to be more emotional, and the exhibit is a structured walk through the invisible lands of Enrico Serpagli, the master of artistic patterns.

Invisible landscapes: geological processes photographed by Enrico Serpagli at Yellowstone.


Baker, V. (1999). Geosemiosis. GSA Bulletin, 111(5)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Google meets Geoart!

Happy birdthday Nicolaus! 
On occasion of his 374th birthday, Google devoted today's doodle to the pioneer of stratigraphy: Nicolaus Steno. The design is essential but elegant, and clearly refers to the law of superposition. Indeed Nicolaus Steno pioneered the idea that sedimentary layers are deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest at the bottom and the youngest at the top.
Today's doodle, devoted to NSteno
Steno's doodle is very artistic, but Steno himself used the visual language to express geological knowledge.

Geological history of Tuscany, according to Nicolaus Steno. Image from Earth Observatory.
Infact, Steno's works are often accompanied by visual material, fundamental for communicating his geological theories. There are no better words than those of Rudwick (1976) to comment this phenomenon: "the development of a distinctive visual language was a striking feature of the emergence of geology as a new science, and it has continued to be a prominent feature of the discoursse of geologists ever since".

In the formative years of geology, fossil shark teeth were named glossopetrae, or tongue-stones, and believed to have magical properties. Steno visually compared fossil teeth to recent ones, from the head of a modern shark.

Rudwick, M. (1976). The emergence of a visual language for geological science.Hist. Sci., xiv: 149-195

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Paleoartistic Highlights on the Web

“The science of paleontology has always been inextricably tied to art.”
- Davidson (2008)

In 1995 Michael Brett-Surman, dinosaur collection manager of the Smithsonian, checked for damage after a pipe burst in the ceiling and discovered 1200 palaeontological illustrations on top of a specimen storage cabinet. After this manifestation of serendipity, the museum began to provide archival care for palaeontological illustration.
The PaleoArt website describes various artistic techniques.
The paleoartistic efforts of the Smithsonian are expressed through a comprehensive website: PaleoArt - Highlights from the Department of Paleobiology. The website is divided in three sections, each of which is presenting different aspects of paleoart with numerous practical examples. The first section is organized around the historical collection of the museum, including a Triceratops by Charles Knight and numerous illustrations prepared under the supervision of the famous 19th century paleontologist Othinel Charles Marsh.
 The second section is devoted to paper conservation, applied to the paleoartistic treasure of the Smithsonian. The last section deals with the creative techniques for palaeontological illustration. From graphite pencil to digital illustration, this section is very rich in content and gives the idea of the tremendous amount of work and knowledge for producing palaeontological illustration.
In conclusion, “PaleoArt - Highlights from the Department of Paleobiology” gives a very vivid impression of palaeontological illustration, its evolution, techniques and conservation. Definitely a must-click for the art and palaeontology enthusiast!

The Smithsonian collection includes a wonderful painting by Charles Knight, comprehensively described in the website.


Davidson, J., 2008. A History of Paleontology Illustration. Indiana University Press, 2008
217 pp.

See also:
Switek, Brian, 2009. [Review of A History of Paleontology Illustration]. Palaeontologia Electronica Vol. 12, Issue 1, R3; 2pp.;