Find out Geology in Art book, Follow Me :)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Geology, ceramics and art: aesthetics in 3D

"Of all the arts, ceramics is the most fundamentally linked to the physical make up of the planet that we inhabit and best illustrates the link between science and art. It can be seen as an artistic expression of the geology of earth."
— Mattew Blakely, 'ceramic landscapes - the idea'

The 'ceramic landscapes' of Mattew Blakely exemplify the link between ceramics and geology. In fact, each of Blakely's artworks illustrates a specific landscape of Britain, with particular reference to its geological features. This example suggests that ceramic is an emotional medium of expression for geological themes, allowing to render complex subjects such as the geology of a landscape.
In addition, ceramic artworks can be thought as geological objects themselves. In the case of Blakely's ceramic landscapes, each piece is entirely created from rocks and minerals collected from individual locations. In more general terms, ceramic artworks are commonly realized with clay, which is the result of geological processes. With the words of Mattew Blakely: "Pots represent our relationship with and dependency on the planet, making things for human use from the dug earth beneath our feet."

Mattew Blakely, Precambrian Sphere. This artwork is inspired by the geological landscapes of Leicestershire. Image from the artist's website.

Besides Mattew Blakely, several ceramic artists referred to geology in their artworks. Among others, Akiyama Yo titled Geological Age V one of his ceramic artworks; Len Castle's ceramic fossils have been exhibited as Sea Secrets and Searching for Fossils in Gondwana; Ettore Sottsass developed a set of layered ceramics ('geology bowls'); Naomi Teppich realizes ceramic fossils; the creative process of Sally Rockriver is inspired by geochemical processes and crystallization.

Akiyama Yo, Geological Age V. From the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ceramic fossils by Len Castle (from Sea Secrets and Searching for Fossils in Gondwana).

Ettore Sottsass, Geology 4 Bowl. Image from Wright's website.

Naomi Teppich, Standing Scaphite. From the artist's webpage.

Sally Rockriver, Arctic Spring. Image from the artist's website.

Despite these recent examples, the relationship between geology and ceramics dates back at
least to the sixth century B.C. In fact, the Corinthian vase painting known as the "Monster of Troy" establishes a link among ceramics and the early days of paleontology. This artwork, pictured on the cover of "the First Fossil Hunters" (Mayor, 2001), depicts Hesione and Heracles fighting against the legendary monster that appeared nearby Troy.
In light of the title of the book, a question might arise:"What is the relationship between the Corinthian vase and fossils?"

The 'Monster of Troy' on the cover of 'The First Fossil Hunters'.
According to Mayor (2001), the “Monster of Troy” was inspired by a fossil skull protruding from an outcrop, as confirmed by its morphology and the rich fossil fauna of the Mediterranean coast (see this previous post for more details). 
In more recent times, fossils inspired Alan Spencer for realizing Strata in Clay, a series of stoneware vessels representing fossil forms through deep time. With the words of the artist: "The stoneware vessels, Strata in Clay, were created as a series to represent examples of the fossil time line that have been preserved in rock strata during the past 500 million years". 
I interviewed Alan Spencer, the deep time explorer.

Alan, who are you and what you do?
I was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1955. I teach ceramics and sculpture as a visual art teacher in the Worthington city schools in central Ohio. When I am not working with students in the high school, I find time to work on my ceramic artwork. Through my recent series of artwork, Strata in Clay, I get to combine the two passions I have in my life, ceramics and geology. Since I was young, I have had an interest in working with clay on the potter’s wheel, and I have been fascinated with fossils.

What career path did you take to get to where you are now?
After graduating from the College of Wooster in 1978 with a major in geology and a minor in
Alan Spencer, Triassic (from the Strata in Clay series).
studio art, I worked as a geologist in Indianapolis, Indiana for a civil engineering firm for five years. While working as a geologist, I continued to create my own artwork. Many friends and family encouraged me to start my own art studio after seeing my stained glass artwork. As a field geologist, I was often traveling around the country working with drill crews during the week
and at home only on weekends. The work schedule with the company eventually pushed me to look for new opportunities. In 1985, my wife’s family invited us to move back to their 70-acre property in Delaware, Ohio, offering a location for me to start my own art studio, where I produced ceramic, stained and blown glass works of art for 17 years.
In 1999 I went back to school at Ohio State University to get my teaching certification and my Master’s degree in Art Education. I have worked as a visual arts teacher in Worthington, Ohio since 2002. While teaching in the schools, I continue to create my own style of ceramic artwork, utilizing the potter’s wheel to create the large thrown forms.

How has being a geologist influenced your art and your philosophy of life?

I don’t believe that being a geologist has influenced my philosophy of life, but it has given me avenues of inspiration as an artist. The knowledge I received in college helped me to understand concepts such as geologic time periods and the evolution of life on earth. Studying detailed fossils as a geologist has allowed me to be able to recreate fossil forms as accurately as possible in my artwork.
Your current project is ‘Strata in Clay’: how do you describe it?
The stoneware vessels, “Strata in Clay,” were created as a series to represent examples of the fossil time line that have been preserved in rock strata during the past 540 million years. In each of the geologic time periods, certain life forms have become known as indicator fossils. After the identification of the indicator fossils for the geologic periods was completed, researching, sketching and modeling of the fossil forms commenced.

Replicas of the fossils from each of the twelve geologic periods were sculpted and fired, creating a mold that could be used to make multiple copies. After the vessel form was completed, press mold techniques were utilized to decorate the large thrown forms. Some of the low-relief sculptures that are represented on the vessels came from casts of actual fossils; others were sculpted by studying photographs of real fossils. Each vessel represents a particular geologic period in time.

Sedimentary rock strata, such as limestone, siltstone, shale, and sandstone, are the predominate materials in which fossils are naturally preserved. For this reason, the surface decoration and glazes used on the vessels in the “Strata in Clay" series were carefully selected to resemble the appearance of these sedimentary rocks that typically encase fossil remnants. 

Alan Spencer, Cambrian (Strata in Clay series). Note the abundant trilobites, which are amonrg the most iconic fossils of the Cambrian period.

What is exactly a stoneware vessel?
There are three types of clay that ceramists typically work with when making sculptures or functional ware. Earthenware, or terra-cotta, is the lowest firing clay and is usually used for hand-sculpting. Earthenware is usually reddish-brown in color after it has been fired. Stoneware clay is a mid-range fired clay that is very durable and can be used for functional or sculptural artwork. Stoneware usually fires to become a dense, off- white or grayish clay. Porcelain is a very fine-particle clay body that is pure white when fired and can be heated to the highest temperature of the three clay types.

Alan Spencer, Devonian (from the Strata in Clay series).

Clay is an artistic medium and a geological object: how do you reconcile these aspects?

Formed by the weathering and erosion of rock strata, clay seemed to be a perfect material to work with to create this series. The earth constantly recycles and rebuilds surface layers. As sand, silt, and clay weather away from older deposits, and new layers of sedimentary material form, occasionally an organism gets buried between the layers. Clay and the unique fossils found in the sedimentary strata of the earth are the focus for the Strata in Clay series. 
What is your typical workflow for ‘Strata in Clay’?
When working with clay for the Strata series, I began by researching the fossil forms that I

wanted to place on the surface of each vessel. I looked for fossils that were very abundant during that particular geologic time period, like trilobites during the Cambrian.  Once the fossils were selected, I printed out images of the creatures and built low-relief replicas of the life form onto a slab of clay. From the low-relief sculpture, I cast a negative mold of the form. Once I had all of the negative molds, I began to throw the vessel on the potter’s wheel.
The forms of the vases in the “Strata in Clay” series are reminiscent of ancient Greek vases and amphora.  The vases are tall (2-4 feet in height) and thrown in multiple sections. The sections are stacked on top of each other to complete the vase to its full height.  After the vase is thrown, I use the molds to make multiple copies of the fossils and apply them to the surface of the vase. Handles are often added to the form to create interesting negative space to the vessel. I try to make connections whenever designing and decorating these vases. The handles often take on the attributes of the fossils that are on the vase. The stains and glazes used to color the surface of the clay are selected to look similar to the rocks that the fossils were found in. The process of making one of the vases can take several months to research, create the molds and throw the vase, then decorate and glaze it.

Crinoid columnals in Mississipian (detail).
Alan Spencer, Mississipian (from the Strata in Clay series).

Detail of Mississipian. Note the abundant crinoids.

How have you documented and expressed geologic time?
Over time paleontologists and geologists have studied the fossils and the rock strata of the

earth and have developed a timeline that is divided into eons, eras, periods and epochs. Eons represent the longest time interval, and epochs represent the shortest. The geologic time scale is used to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred throughout Earth’s history. There are twelve geologic time periods, ranging from the oldest, Cambrian, beginning 540 million years ago, to the Quaternary, which began about 1.8 million years ago. In my artwork I have tried to mimic the life forms that were significant in each of the twelve geologic periods. I researched fossils that were abundant during the geologic periods and recreated the fossil forms on the surface of twelve thrown wheel ceramic vessels. 

Alan Spencer, Pennsylvanian.
What artists, what geological themes inspired you in developing Strata in Clay?
In the medium of glass art, William Morris has been an artist that helped to inspire some of my artwork. His Artifact series led me to have a vision of what I wanted to create in my Strata series. Morris’s Standing Stone series motivated me to create very large forms.
Ceramic artist Maria Martinez inspired me in my work with clay. Martinez’s forms and special firing technique inspired me when I was creating the form and firing the vase that represents the Pennsylvanian period. During the Pennsylvanian period (one half of the Carboniferous age) there were large quantities of coal deposited in the strata of the earth. The form of the vase is a traditional wedding vase, the surface of which has been polished with a sooth rock in the style that Martinez typically produced. The vase was heated up to 1500 degrees in a Raku kiln and then placed in a metal barrel filled with sawdust and newspaper. The hot vessel tries to burn the organic material, but because the barrel is sealed, no oxygen can get in. The normally white clay turns jet black in the process, which is referred to as carbonizing. The black vase is meant to look like the coal that is so often found in the Pennsylvanian deposits.  

Detail of Alan Spencer's Pennsylvanian.

What is crucial for your ceramics: communicating geological concepts or expressing your personal fascination for Geology?
For the Strata in Clay series, my focus was to communicate the concept of geologic time periods. The series of vessels helps to communicate this concept by creating a vessel for each of the twelve time periods. As an educator and a visual artist, I wanted to show people what life forms were most prevalent in each of the twelve geologic periods. I researched the fossil record and consulted with other geologists to determine what fossils to place on some of the vases. The artwork in the series helps to illustrate the complex evolution path that life on earth has taken during the last 540 million years.

Eurypterids and crinoids charachterize Alan Spencer's Ordovician (from the Strata in Clay series).
How long have you been working professionally as an artist?
I have been working as a professional artist for 29 years. In my studio I worked with clay, stained glass and blown glass materials to create artworks for sale and for commissions.  Since I became an arts educator, it has been more difficult to find time to work on my own artwork. It has been rewarding to finally complete the geologic vases and have them on exhibit in a gallery where people can learn about geology, the evolution of life on earth, as well as enjoy the aesthetics of each piece in the series. 

What was the turning point in your professional career?
The largest turning point in my career was when I decided to switch from working as a

professional geologist to being an artist. Getting a teaching degree and working as a visual artist in a high school has allowed me to earn a decent income, while still having time to work professionally on own artwork. So often as a professional artist I felt that I needed to produce as much work as possible to earn a living. Creating the geologic artwork while teaching has allowed me the luxury of being able to take the time to do research, and make test samples, in order to complete the series with the highest quality.

Is there a client base for ‘geological ceramics’?
Over 300 students from local schools as well as several hundred community citizens came to view the exhibit during the seven weeks that the show was at the McConnell Arts Center (MAC) in Worthington, Ohio. None of the vases were purchased, but my hope is that the entire series of geologic vessels will be purchased by an institution and used for educational purposes someday.

Alan Spencer, Silurian (from the Strata in Clay series).
Are your geological works exhibited in scientific institutions?
I have not had any of my artworks exhibited in a scientific institution. The Strata in Clay series is the first collection of mine that has had a geologic theme. I have been researching, sketching designs, making the molds, and throwing the forms since 2004. None of the pieces from the collection were available for purchase until January of 2014 when the exhibit went on display at the MAC in Worthington, Ohio. 

Alan Spencer, Cretaceous (from the Strata in Clay series).
How important it is for artists to know about geology, and why?
I feel that it is important for artist to know about geology because the rocks, the earth, fossils and crystals, can all be such a strong source of inspiration for many forms of artwork. So many of the raw materials used in any artwork come from the strata of the earth. It is imperative to be aware of these materials and how to use them properly to create successful artworks.  I believe that the more knowledge an artist has at his/her discretion regarding subjects like geology, the more variety that artist will have to be inspired in different directions.

Alan Spencer, Jurassic (from the Strata in Clay series).


Mayor, A. 2001. The first fossil hunters - paleontology in Greek and Roman times. Princeton Press, 361 pp.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Geology&Art: the exhibit!

In collaboration with Antonio Alberti and the University of Trieste, I organized  “Geologia&Arte” (Geology&Art), exploring the aesthetic diversity of geological art. The exhibit is based on accurate reproductions of geoartistic artworks, ranging from Renaissance paintings to modern microphotographs.
Featured artists include Philippe Salmon, Ian Barrett, Alexandre de Barde, Giotto di Bondone, Leonardo da Vinci, Bernardo Cesare, Licio Tezza, Charles Knight, Heinrich Harder, Fredric Church, Thomas Cole, Carl Spitzweg, George Victor du Noyer and Chris Drury.

Although “Geologia&Arte” represents a first glimpse in the world of geoart, the exhibit has met great success, being appealing both to geological and artistic thinkers. For this reason, I hope to improve the exhibit in the future, covering more artists and more media. There is whole geoartistic universe to explore!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Geological Mosaics

Mutual Core by Björk (video director: Andrew Thomas Luang).

In a previous post, we cited Björk and her geology-inspired songs. Crystals and tectonic plates populate Björk’s last album, Biophilia, which is celebrating natural phenomena in music.
In this context, continental drift is poetically described in Mutual Core, which is explicitly subtitled as "Tectonic plates, chords". Terse but expressive lyrics account for scale, a persistent theme in geologic art: “As fast as your fingernail grows, / The Atlantic ridge drifts / To counteract distance”.
Such visual verses have been recently mirrored by a colourful video, premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles.
Directed by Andrew Thomas Luang, the Mutual Core video represents a plethora of geological objects framed in the context of plate tectonics. For this reason, Björk’s video can be described as a geological mosaic, where individual tesserae – layers, lava, tectonic plates – combines in a larger picture. Consequently, a question might arise: are there any geoartistic analogues? Geological Inspirations in Textile Art – an exhibition at Bewdley Museum – provides an immediate answer. A similar language is adopted by the ceramic mural The Story of Life by Lorraine Malach, exhibited at the entrance of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Alberta).
Geological textile art by Georgia Jacobs. Image from the website of the Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark.
The Story of Life by Lorraine Malach.
In this context, the artworks of Rachel Sager occupies a place of prominence. In fact, the artist authored mosaics sensu stricto, adopting  materials and themes intimately linked to geology. Specifically, Sager's tesserae are realized with sandstone, limestone, slate, shale, and even coal, whereas themes ranges from layers to natural gas reservoirs. As Rachel Sager writes in her website,
"My artistic process includes large chunks of time spent sifting through the earth itself, gathering material. I am specifically dependent on my native Southwestern Pennsylvania geology".
Rachel Sager, Mighty Marcellus No. 1.
I had an interesting interview with the artist.

At what age did you become a ‘geologic artist’ and how did you know?
I would have to say fairly recently, although I believe becoming an artist of any kind involves a lifetime of real world learning and osmosis. I can remember spending long days as a child building stone dams in creeks and creating playhouses in rock formations. I have been surrounded by stone all my life, having grown up in a 200 year old sandstone farmhouse and having an amateur geologist for a father.  I knew I had become a geologic artist after I had built my first Marcellus mosaic in 2010. A light bulb flicked on in my head when I realized that sourcing my tesserae from the earth was not just possible, but entirely necessary for me. 

Do you have formal training in art or geology? 
I have a minor in art history and formal studio training in the Ravenna Method of mosaic. I am fortunate to have studied with renowned mosaic maestros from Italy who have instilled in me a great respect for a medium with thousands of years worth of  history and a future of very exciting possibilities. I consider myself a perpetual student and enjoy the self-taught lifestyle of reading on many subjects. In another life I see myself working toward a degree in geology. But in this life, mosaic is my commitment so I do my best to educate myself about the earth sciences in the extra slices of time.
Why do you feel the need to create mosaics about geology?  
Working with the earth’s own material gives me a visceral connectedness to it. It’s not about being a sustainable or green artist, which I consider to be unattainable labels anyway. It’s more about my direct relationship to the natural world around me and the sense of comfort it gives me to be up close and very personal with it. My native South Western Pennsylvania has a rich history of coal mining. My father, his father, and his father’s father worked small mines and made and lost their fortunes from the business. Coal is inextricably tied to my family history, and now, once again, geology has become centre stage, this time in the form of natural gas.  My home has become a hot spot in the world’s energy vortex, so there are many questions being asked and much tension being created about how it will all play out.  As an artist, I feel incredibly fortunate to have the tools to communicate my small part in the drama.
Detail of Mighty Marcellus No. 3.
Where do you get tesserae and how do you end up using them in a work of art?
Time spent in fields, rivers, roadsides and quarries takes up a large part of my artistic process. It’s one thing to appreciate a beautifully shaped or colored stone and pick it up to place on your coffee table. It’s quite another thing to hunt for stone with the awareness that you will be chopping it up. I will fill up a bucket from wherever I happen to be gathering and bring it home to my studio to be categorized. Using a traditional stone hammer which has sharp edges on both ends, I chop each stone into small pieces, and then smaller pieces, and often even smaller pieces. I will separate the cuttings from various stone into containers until I have the palate of shades and color I want. This cutting process is one of the great joys of my work. Witnessing the cracking open of a rock that has been sealed up for millions of years, to breathe in its dust, its smell, sometimes even its taste… this is one of the reasons I will always be a Geologic artist. 
Portrait of the Artist: Rachel Sager. From the artist's website.

What kind of workspace do you have?
My husband has built me a wonderful smallish 16’ x 15’ studio with one whole wall of windows for natural light, a concrete floor and a view of my garden.  I don’t mind that it’s not large because it’s well organized and I also have access to his much larger carpentry workshop when I need the big tools. The walls are covered with shelving to house clear glass jars full of hundreds of shades of glass, stone, and ceramic. I have a growing collection of rock hammers, each for its own specific task. I like to say that a girl can never have enough hammers! Having worked in many bad spaces over the years, I am very aware of the gift of a well-designed studio. It has become the heart of the house. I believe in rigorous studio time and part of getting myself there every day involves adding my personal magic to it. A studio should be a sacred space.

What is the favourite geological artwork you created?
This is a hard question to answer. Many of my works feel like little children who I appreciate for their distinctive gifts so picking just one feels a bit like being a bad mother. But, I will say that Fracture is a piece I continue to look back on as a little slice of perfection that I am unable to pick apart with a critical eye.  One of the realizations I have made as an artist is that every piece starts out perfect. Very few manage to hold on to that ideal all the way through to the end.  Fracture is a great blend of inspired concept, technique, and design. I still get a thrill when I’m fortunate enough to see it in person once in a while. I guess the only improvement I could have made to it would have been to make it much bigger! 

Rachel Sager, Fracture.
What artistic and conceptual metaphors have you used in the ‘Lithosphere series’?
For years, I felt compelled to work in circles without quite knowing why. I still feel and indulge in the compulsion, but I have a better idea of the why now after having done the research after the fact. The circle is an archetypal and universal symbol. It’s repeated in every culture, in every age, and represents many primordial human instincts tied into the psyche, spirituality, and the self. I have come to unapologetically embrace my circle obsession and enjoy integrating it’s symbolisms into my art.  The earth’s lithosphere, or outer crust, is a great circle image. Litho: meaning stone and sphere: translating to circle…what more could I ask? The perfect title for my circle series! 

Lithosphere Series No.3 was accepted in 3R's prestigious Prix Picassiette Exhibition in Chartres, France.

Please, explain the narrative of ‘A World Divided’.
This piece is very much tied into the Marcellus Series. It’s a much more abstract deep well image but viewed within the other geologic works, one can see the drill references.  I have been watching Pennsylvania communities splinter into taking sides for and against the idea of fracking and gas drilling in general. I often feel as if I am straddling a deep chasm, because I understand both sides. I see the direct improvement in our local economies; no small thing at this point in time. I also see the beautiful farmland I’ve grown up around being dotted with a new industry. So, I think A World Divided represents my small little corner of the world and its struggles to come to terms with its role in a crucial point in the history of Energy.

Rachel Sager, A World Divided.
Some of your works present an ‘abstract’ feeling, being at the same time representational. What is the role of abstraction in representing geological themes? 
One of my favourite parts of working with and manipulating natural stone is the freedom of expression that it gives me. I like to let each stone do what it was meant to do.  Any given rock will behave in a different way from its neighbour. The act of cutting in mosaic is a very important and sensitive stage of the process. Each stone cleaves in its own distinct style. Some cut squarishly; some cut in a beautifully irregular way. My point is that appreciating the beauty of the stone is in letting it have its personality and laying it into the mortar in a way that best lets that personality shine. As a mosaicist, I am very familiar with forcing any particular material into the shape that I want, but I have found there to be a freedom in giving the stone the lead and seeing where it takes me. As in geologic formations, where stone moves in flowing, directional layers, I find the abstract fields of pattern and movement to be almost meditative, both while building them and later as I appreciate the finished art.  I find that creating these fields of abstraction within a larger more representational image creates a pleasing movement for the eye. People who love mosaic understand, even if unconsciously, that there are many little separate worlds to be discovered and contemplated within a work of this kind.  

How do you reconcile the representational ‘Marcellus’ series with the more abstract ones?
There is so much going on in the field of gas drilling right now that I have my pick of themes, images, and concepts to bring it to life in my art. I sometimes feel bombarded by these flashes of images, and am only restricted by time as mosaic is a very slow art. As an example, the piece titled Frack represents the idea of what the shale might look like as it is fractured or fracked by the high powered water shooting down through the pipeline. I use actual Marcellus shale in this piece and I have found that people are fascinated by this very abstract image and come away with a better understanding of what the heck is going on down there 8000 feet below them.
Rachel Sager, Frack.

How important do you think it is for artists to know about Geology, and why?
Well, I think it’s very important! Any artist should be in a constant state of learning about the world around them. Art imitates nature, right? Especially for the mosaic artist, what lies under them should be of great interest because mosaic is so invested in materials and the earth’s product has been proven to be an excellent source of long-lasting, highly expressive material.  I am, of course, very passionate about the use of natural stone in mosaic. Over-machined and processed mosaic products hold very little interest for me and I believe, take some of the magic away from the artist’s relationship to her material.

What is your idea of ‘Geologic Art’?
I love that this is an almost unanswerable question. The book, Geology in Art, and Andrea Baucon’s blog have helped to open my eyes to the vast interpretations that an artist working in any medium can apply to the subject of geology. But, for my own personal needs, I would say that geologic art is my way of connecting to the earth under my feet while at the same time using that earth to express my visions and ask my questions.

What are your latest works about and where are you going with them?
This year I have come above ground and am creating a collection titled TerraIncognita, which translates into unknown land. In the series, I use map imagery to connect two mismatched groups of people; the explorers from The Age of Discovery and us as virtual, social networking, armchair explorers. Cartography, for me, complements geology as a science and an art.  I am delighting in the overlaps I’m discovering in the worlds I create above and below ground. In many ways, the pieces from The Geology Series are themselves, a kind of map art. As with all my work now, geology plays a starring role as the building blocks that make up the tiny worlds found in all mosaic.

Rachel Sager, Terra Incognita.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ichnology on Google!

After Steno and his layers, Google celebrates another geoscientist through visual arts! In fact, today’s Doodle shows Mary Leakey excavating the Laetoli footprints, one of the landmarks of hominid ichnology.


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