Art + Science Series: Paintings + Sculpture of Katey Berry Furgason

Three Diatoms, plaster paint + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

Three Diatoms, plaster paint + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

I’m pleased to feature the artwork of Katey Berry Furgason on the first of the new Art + Science Series here on the biocreativity blog. I first met Katey when she submitted three paintings from her Portraits of the Microscopic series to Art.Science.Gallery.’s EVOLVE exhibition last spring. Last summer, I had the immense good fortune to visit the studio she in Santa Fe she shares with husband Scot, to learn more about her inspirations and process. To The Heart, a solo exhibition of Katey’s paintings and sculpture, runs February 14 – March 23 at Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin, TX.

[biocreativity] Welcome to the biocreativity blog, Katey! What type of work do you do? 

 [KBF] I believe all life is a series of collaborations.  We are the results; past, present and future, of collaborations in which we find meaning and purpose. This belief structures how I live and how I work. When I am working I am engaged in collaboration with my subject. My subject presents its physical facts to me and I respond. I search for its essence, its core, its heart and its possible transformations.  My role is to discover what my subject was, is and can be.

Inside The Eye, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

Inside The Eye, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

[biocreativity] Where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum? 

[KBF] From 16-18 years of age I studied human anatomy, drawing and sculpture at the Art Student’s League in NYC to get some classical training before entering into the BFA program at Hunter College in NYC, which was known to lean heavily towards the conceptual.

At Hunter I studied studio art and philosophy.  Although my schooling was focused in the Arts, being raised by a father who was a chemical engineer, inventor, entreprenuer and lover of experiments (especially on the kitchen table, when he wanted to show me, say, what distillation was) filled me with the wonders of life and beauty of discovery.  My father’s approach to life filled and nourished my childhood, it was founded in his love of what science showed us, in the beauty of all that was known and the wonder of all that was yet to be discovered. Although my formal academic training did not include scientific study, the entirety of my childhood was bathed in it. 

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[biocreativity] That sounds like an amazing experience, and I can certainly see how it has inflenced your work. How do you currently view the interaction of arts and sciences? How do you think one informs the other?

[KBF] The idea of Infinite Divisibility, which is the belief that there are infinite parts to every whole is widely held by scientists, philosophers, economists….and by most of us who give it some thought. This idea applied to the notion of Truth gives us this: The Whole of Truth, the entirety of All existent Truth is infinitely divisible = there are infinite parts/pieces/bits/aspects which make up the Whole Truth.

Scientists, artists, philosophers, teachers, parents, etc. (all of us), to some extent, seek to understand some part(s) of Truth in order to make our lives and existence more meaningful. Artists and Scientists make it their life goal to seek part(s) of our Whole Truth with the clear purpose of sharing their discoveries and observations – these bits of Truth – with others, to build upon human understanding and depth of experience.

The artist and the scientist set out on paths of discovery, often not knowing (even if they think they do!) where the path will lead and what will be uncovered. In methodology they may differ (artists do not have to adhere to the scientific method) but in purpose they do not. In purpose they share a goal, an outlook on life, a belief in, love, and importance, of; discovery, wonder, questions, observations and seeking. Seeking bits of Truth that fascinate us, that inform us, that make our lives richer.

In other words, very simply, both Artist and Scientist say to all who will hear them “Hey! I discovered something! I want you to know about it!”.

Insect collaboration sculptures by Katey Berry Furgason

Insect collaboration sculptures by Katey Berry Furgason.

[biocreativity] I think about that process of discovery a lot, and being both an artist and scientist myself, I definitely see the parallels in purpose you describe. I was so fascinated to learn about your process when I visited your studio last summer. Please describe your current art projects for the biocreativity readers. 

[KBF] In my paintings of the microscopic I spend endless hours looking at and reading about my subject.  I read, I take notes, I study what they do and what they look like.  For days, weeks, I look at hundreds of images, take notes on what they are, how they function, I sketch them, over and over and over, until I feel I have ‘gotten’ them. Then, all notes and sketches are put aside and I begin to sketch from memory. I compose the painting from memory with pencil and paper first. I make my own clay plaster paint and apply layers, with a small trowel, onto masonite. I then apply metal leaf to areas where my subject matter will be and then I etch into the leaf with a small, dental like tool. The details of my subjects are etched out of the leaf.  The image there is from memory, it is not meant to give us a realist depiction but rather a human interpretation, through memory, of its most important aspects; its essence interpreted.

Bone. Plaster paint + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

Bone. Plaster paint + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

My work with found wood brings to me a different process and outcome because it presents its reality to me in a much different way than a microscopic subject does. My wood pieces are found on my daily walks in New Mexico. I walk the rivers, arroyos, deserts and mountains of Santa Fe.  I pick up decaying pieces of wood that visually jump out at me.  I am struck by how they have been dramatically re-shaped by insects, time and weather. Their bodies reveal their history.  I am aware that at that moment of picking them up and taking them to my studio I interrupt their cycle in nature.

A collaboration begins when I thoroughly gut each piece of its soft rot and reveal the hard form; its core. This is a process of discovery because I cannot predict what will be uncovered; what will be left remaining. 
I then scrape and sand each piece and surround them in earth based mediums: clay, wax, metal. The process feels deeply ceremonial and ritualistic: 
from the selecting… to the ‘gutting’…to the re-working of the surface… to the ‘re-dressing’….to the mounting on the wall : subject and I go through a transformation.

Katey Berry Furgason at work in her studio in Santa Fe, NM.

Katey Berry Furgason at work in her studio in Santa Fe, NM.

[biocreativity] Katey, tell us more about the inspirations and motivations behind your work and practice. 

[KBF]

I am interested in art imitating the way in which we live; collaboratively.

I am drawn to collaborations with nature.

I want nature to guide my work, give me my set of criteria and physical facts.

I am drawn to the process of discovery and not being in full control of the outcome.

I need to be engaged with my environment.

I believe life is fascinating and that beauty is everywhere and that it often goes unseen.

I am filled with the desire to show people some of that beauty that often goes unseen.

8 Heart Strings, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

8 Heart Strings, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

[biocreativity] What is the most important thing that you want others to know about your work?

[KBF] The most important thing about my work would be this: once I am done with it, it is Yours. It is yours to interpret freely and personally, to attach whatever kind of meaning to it you wish, it has no ‘right’ interpretation.  Once I am finished making it, it is itself fully offered to you.

Insect collaboration sculpture by Katey Berry Furgason

Insect collaboration sculpture by Katey Berry Furgason

[biocreativity] I think that is a really important and generous point to make. Since part of our mission at Art.Science.Gallery. is to engage people in the science through the arts, I think about this a lot. We try to do this in a non-intimidating way, but I some people feel intimidated in an art gallery setting, so then our mission also becomes about helping break down “crutches” people have built up about not considering themselves to be very “sciency” or very “artistic”. Your statement above is something that I hope would feel very inviting to viewers of your work. Katey what’s next for you in art + science? Where do you see your current projects going, or what would you like to do next?

[KBF] I will continue to explore the objects in the natural world around me.  I am planning on doing several room installations – in which the walls will be covered with tree roots, mounted flush against it – bringing the outside in and directing our gaze and thoughts to what often goes unnoticed.

I am still fascinated with how time, weather and insects act upon decaying pieces of wood, with how and where natural objects are in the ecological cycle. I never really know what the next work will be – one thing leads to the other – one discovery to the other.

Pine, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

Pine, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

[biocreativity] Where can biocreativity readers find you on the web?

[KBF] My facebook page is found at: https://www.facebook.com/KateyBerryPaintings 

[biocreativity] What is your advice to young artists and scientists who might be thinking about getting into art-science projects?

 [KBF] Focus on the process, always maintain integrity (make things well), and let the outcome be born out of it (allow the outcome, don’t force it).

With Blue, wood, clay, wax © Katey Berry Furgason

With Blue, wood, clay, wax © Katey Berry Furgason

[biocreativity] Anything else you’d like to mention?

[KBF] Art is life, it is engagement, it is collaboration, it is a process of discovery – you are a necessary part of that. It is your eyes, your heart, and your mind that bring it to life and sustain its meaning(s).

[biocreativity] Katey, thanks so much for this interview! Readers, mark your calendars to see Katey’s solo exhibition, To The Heart, opening on Valentine’s Day 6-9pm at Art.Science.Gallery. at 916 Springdale Road, Building 2, #102, Austin, TX 78702. The exhibition runs through March 23, 2014.  

Heart Beats, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

Heart Beats, plaster painting + gold leaf © Katey Berry Furgason

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This entry was posted in biology, exhibits, microbiology, painting by h. gillespie. Bookmark the permalink.

About h. gillespie

Hayley Gillespie is an artist-scientist with a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution and Animal Behavior. She studies endangered species, writes for the biocreativity blog and is the founder/director of Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin, Texas. Hayley enjoys finding new ways to merge art & science through outreach activities, writing and multimedia projects.

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