There are several explanations for this bias towards analog media as a means to render realistic images of the natural world, and specifically painting and drawing. For one, the open call for participation circulated in networks extending from the exhibition organizers, who are skilled painters and drawers themselves. However, this is also a direct outcome of the history of art and science communication with its roots in the tradition of high quality scientific investigation, fieldwork, and illustration. Scientific illustrators have developed an unyielding commitment to precise observation in the lab or field, and accurate representation on paper or some alternative canvas. Illustrators hone their hand-eye coordination with attention to the most minute of morphological details. A successful illustration is devoid of rhetoric, conveying a clear and concise sense of objective translation. While a handful of works in “Windows on Evolution” do stray from realism, such as Scales, Pointillism on a Butterfly Wing (2011) by Hans J. Geuze (Kockengen, The Netherlands) with its characteristic impressionistic technique, evoking Georges Seurat, these artists do not stray very far, retaining conviction in the realistic portrayal of pattern and form as recorded by evolution in its myriad species, which in the case of Hans Geuze is the Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma).
The top 40 artworks that are featured in “Windows on Evolution” explore a range of adaptations of Brunelleschi’s fixed-point perspective, positioning the contemporary ‘beholder’ at varying geospatial coordinates around the world, with subtle shifts in distance from the subject at hand – near and far, on dry ground and underwater – to illustrate how closely species are linked, or not, in scientifically described evolutionary processes including natural selection, sexual selection, mutation, coevolution, mimicry, and camouflage. In Punta Suarez (1995), for example, viewers are transported to the southernmost island in the Galapagos chain, known as Hood Island or Española, though the artist herself, Kim Diment, lives in Grayling, Michigan, USA. In the attending caption, Diment explains how the fauna on Hood Island is distinct from all others in the archipelago due to a process called deviation, a process that famously inspired Darwin’s evolutionary theory whereby animals and plants that descend from a common ancestor evolve into different forms when living under different conditions.
At Punta Suarez, Diment visualizes the process of deviation by composing a rocky shoreline scene inhabited by: three inquisitive Marine Iguanas looking directly back at the beholder, with bright red and blue gray acrylic patterns in paint that mimic their actual skin; two Masked Boobies, who seem comparatively less interested to meet the beholder’s gaze; a flock of Red-billed Tropic Birds variously in flight or perched on rocks in the middle ground of the composition, presumably hunting for food; and specks of orange where the ocean surges onto land, specks that are barely discernable by the unaided human eye, but identified in the caption as a collection of Sally Fight Foot Crabs. Diment’s color palette is relatively accurate to the species thus indicated, however she adds an aesthetic of tranquility amidst an otherwise harsh intertidal zone where solid rock, saline waters, and daily exposures to the dynamics of ocean waves create austere environmental conditions for survival. For the beholder that settles her gaze on this acrylic painting, observing the ecology of Hood Island appears pleasant, like a calm afternoon picnicking with an eco-tourism outfitter or scientific research expedition.