The Marriage Of Emotion And Fact
Long separated after common origins, pioneering nature print artist and zoologist F. G. Hochberg rediscovers the linkage of science and art.
Thursday, April 26, 2001
In these modern times, art and science appear like two distinct, even contrary pursuits. To learn that someone is either an artist or a scientist will typically cause quite different expectations about that person''s personality and lifestyle. People associate art with ideas, emotions and perceptions. They perceive science as dealing with facts, theories and conclusions.
Yet art and science share as common origin a deep and ever-renewing curiosity about the world, a passion for seeing beyond the surfaces of things, a desire to arrive at a new and more truthful understanding of how we fit into our surroundings. Long ago art and science evolved hand-in-hand. The rift between the two has left us poorer in both knowledge and imagination.
This past season has found several Monterey Peninsula and Bay Area institutions displaying art that reaches across this philosophical divide to the field of scientific observation and practice. A recent exhibit at the Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery displayed the works of nearly 50 regional artists who studied firsthand the flora, fauna, geology and ecology of the Watsonville sloughs and then made an artistic record of their observations. Currently at the Oakland Museum, a delightful exhibit of "biological art" offers unique views of several California species (this exhibit runs until May 13).
Closer to home, at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, an exhibit of nature prints by F. G. Hochberg, pioneering nature print artist and curator of invertebrate zoology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, illustrates the wisdom and value of exploring the environment with equal measures of artistic skill and scientific knowledge.
The art of nature printing is quite ancient, but it is only in the past quarter century that a genuine revival has taken hold, spurred in part by the efforts of Hochberg, who co-founded the Nature Printing Society in 1976. Nature printing, which involves applying ink either directly (the viscosity method) or indirectly (the wet rubbing method) to a plant or fish, had in centuries past many commercial and archival applications. With the advent of photography, however, nature printing largely disappeared.
Renewed interest in nature printing points to the desire of many to enjoy a greater dialogue with the natural world, one in which scientific curiosity and aesthetic wonder are not excluded from one another. (Two Web sites, members.tripod.com/~hargle/ and dandelionsarefree. com/natureprint/nps.html, provide a good starting point for those wishing to find out more about nature printing.)
Nature''s Wide Palette
The works on view at the museum, which features a variety of sea creatures and land plants, represent the wide range of Hochberg''s work, which spans 25 years and numerous countries. Two eucalyptus prints, done in Santa Barbara in 1987, appear familiar, yet upon close inspection they reveal detail of an almost visceral quality not achievable in photographs. One of Hochberg''s earliest works, a 1976 print on handmade paper of Santa Barbara''s canyon lupine, sparkles with colorful exuberance (this joyous print captures the essence of the flower, and perhaps of that era as well).
Many visitors will find Hochberg''s fish prints to be the most compelling. Two juxtaposed pieces, one dating from 1987 of two Hawaiian halfbeaks, the other a 1983 work showing five daylights from Stonington, Connecticut, demonstrate Hochberg''s skill in manipulating color to communicate the wide palette of nature''s own designs. The same colors are used in the two pieces, yet, as in nature, the halfbeaks shimmer with cool delicacy, while the bold patterns of the daylights fill that print with wild energy.
The textural aspect of nature printing lends the illusion of movement to several of these prints. A bluefish from Maryland (1981) seems to be emerging from watery space behind the print, as if the paper were an aquarium window. In another Maryland print, wispy stalks of bristlegrass appear to bend at the rush of unseen wind. For this work, Hochberg has chosen Hosho paper, subtle in color, like pale evening light, which contributes to its quietly meditative mood.
There is considerable diversity in these prints, but what unites them all is a deep, Zen-like aesthetic intelligence. A copepod from the Velero Basin (1976) floats amidst blank, white space, encouraging us to rethink notions of emptiness when we look at the sky, the sea, the desert.
This is a marvelous exhibit for children, for children know what many adults forget, namely that art is an intensely physical activity. To appreciate nature printing one is never far from an awareness of its materials--the raw stuff of nature, which is where so many children''s imaginations first take flight--as well as its methods. Indeed, the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum has quite intelligently included in the exhibit a display case of the different kinds of rollers, brushes and inks used in making nature prints. And, to emphasize the educational value of the exhibit, each piece features the common and Latin names of the specimen, the year and location it was found, and the type of paper and ink used for the print.
Hochberg himself will conduct a two-day weekend workshop on nature printing at the museum on Saturday and Sunday. It is the ideal setting for children and adults both to see firsthand just how close art and science can be.
A Printmaker''s Harvest: Nature Prints by F. G. Hochberg is on view until May 6 at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, 165 Lighthouse at Central. The museum is open from 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is free. For reservations and fees for Dr. Hochberg''s workshop, call 648-5716.