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. 


[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. 


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: 

[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

eco-art censorship

Australian artist Adrian Dwyer with his painting depicting dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Japan. His painting was rejected from the Shinju Masuri Art Awards contest on grounds that it was, "violent, inflammatory and antagonistic."

An interesting case of art censorship has just hit the news headlines from the shire of Broome, Australia. A “controversial” landscape painting depicting bloody coastal waters of Taiji, Japan has been rejected by the Shinju Matsuri Art Awards contest on the grounds that, “it was violent, it was inflammatory, it was antagonistic”. The painting was meant to raise awareness of the annual dolphin hunts in the coastal town of Taiji, Japan, which is also the topic of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. This documentary has brought international attention to the hunts and has placed tremendous international pressure on the “fishermen” of Taiji to stop what many perceive as a cruel and unnecessary practice.

“If it hadn’t been something I felt extremely strongly about because I felt it was so unattractive, then it would not have been pulled.” – Jillian Phlip

The art contest is held annually as part of the multicultural Shinju Matsuri Festival held in the shire of Broome, which is Taiji’s sister city. Continued dolphin hunts in Taiji despite international protest recently caused the two sister cities to suspend ties. Festival director Jillian Phlip said that displaying the painting by local artist Adrian Dwyer would have jeopardized recent efforts at reconciliation between the two towns.

Interestingly, nothing in the Shinju Matsuri Art Awards conditions of entry restrict content or subject matter in any way. In fact the “Criteria for Art Entries” states that, “there is no set theme for the Shinju Matsuri Art Awards. Artists may find some inspiration through reflecting on the past and the harmonious celebration of multiculturalism and diversity of Shinju Matsuri.” While Dwyer’s painting may not promote harmonious celebration, it certainly speaks to the past (and future) of Broome’s relationship with Taiji. Festival director Phlip certainly isn’t obscuring her objections to the piece, which seem to be largely political, stating that the painting might have offended the Japanese consul-general who was visiting Broome for the festival. Dwyer’s painting was the only entry rejected from the festival’s art show.

Dwyer is certainly not the first to use artistic expression to bring attention to activities in Taiji. Back in 2009, London Art News shared Fizza Abdulrasul’s painting Dolphins: From Sheer Joy to Utter Devastation (below).

Fizza Abdulrasul’s 2008 painting "Dolphins: From Sheer Joy to Utter Devastation"

Schoolchildren from the island of St. Helena created artistic representations of how they felt after watching the documentary The Cove as part of a class project, and shared their work with the Save Japan Dolphins blog.

Schoolchildren from St. Helena used artistic expression to process their feelings about the dolphin hunts in Japan.

During a protest against Taiji dolphin hunts in Madrid, Spain an artistic team created this striking representation of a Japanese flag. A YouTube video shows the process behind this shot.

Activists in Madrid, Spain created this powerful image to protest Taiji dolphin hunts.

As reported last year by Environment Philippines, The Cove documentary inspired Filipino mural artist AG Sano to paint 23,000 dolphins. You can see Sano’s interview on CCTV news here.

Filipino artist AG Sano has pledged to paint 23,000 dolphins on the streets of the Philippines to protest dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan.


Despite his disappointment at having his painting withdrawn by the Shinju Matsuri Festival, Dwyer’s art is now reaching an international audience. Media coverage in The West Australian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), among others, continues to raise the profile of his painting well beyond what it may have been had the piece been included in the show. As writer Kathy Acker once said, “I think the best thing in cases of censorship or things like this is to get as much media as possible.”


For those of you who attended the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin last month, you may have run into Liana Vitali in the exhibit booth. I had a great time chatting with Liana and attending the ARKive workshop. I’m excited to report that “my” study organism – the Barton Springs Salamander (Eurycea sosorum) – was featured on ARKive’s On the Road blog yesterday. I’m sure all of you on Field Trip 18 will recognize Barton Springs and the salamander! And, to make this a biocreative post, I’ll share with you one of my aunt Victoria Harrell’s paintings that appeared in my dissertation manuscript:

Victoria Harrell "Barton Springs Salamander" watercolor on paper

Victoria Harrell "Barton Springs Salamander" watercolor on paper.

cover art on scientific journals

Thanks to a presentation yesterday at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin for alerting me to the art featured on the cover of the scientific journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. I was pleasantly surprised to find a gallery of cover art on the journals website. For each issue, there is a short article describing the relationship of the cover artwork to the research featured within. Most of these appear to be written by Polyxeni Potter of the CDC in Atlanta. I would love to know more about that job, writing art-cover-story pieces and how they relate to the science featured in each issue!

Cover for Volume 10, No. 2. Liu Sung-nien (1174–1224), Sung Dynasty. Lohan (1207) National Palace Museum, Taiwan, Republic of China. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk (117 cm x 55.8 cm) Available from:

For the issue pictured above – the 2004 edition on SARS research – Potter writes:

Knowledge, a communal effort laboriously assembled piece by piece, relies on swift and purposeful give and take. Non-human primates more than once have held valuable clues to human puzzles, from AIDS to hepatitis. Sometimes the vehicle, but more often the oracle of zoonotic scourges, they have shared with us generously. In this the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the long arm of the gibbon may yet reach across the seas with seeds of knowledge for the global health community deciphering the puzzle of SARS.

Furthermore, I love what the CDC has to say about the relationship between art and the science featured in their journal:

Images for the cover of Emerging Infectious Diseases are selected for artistic quality, technical reproducibility, stylistic continuity, communication effectiveness, and audience appeal. The images, which are published with permission of the artists or other copyright holders, are drawn from many periods (ancient to contemporary) and are used to “humanize” and enhance the scientific content by illustrating ideas, raising consciousness, revealing truth, stimulating the intellect, and firing the emotions.

The cover story has evolved by popular demand, literally out of the journal readers’ wish to know the art and how it relates to them and to what they do. A sketch of the artist, period, and work, provides contextual knowledge, and a brief interpretation offers a link between the art and the human elements and goals of public health. The reader becomes familiar with the work, and in the end is surprised and, we hope, enlightened.

You may also enjoy the cover of Volume 11 No. 4 on insect vectors of disease featuring the art of Albrecht Durer and Volume 10 No. 8 on avian vectors featuring the art of Emily Carr. Yet another elegant and creative way to help make the biological sciences more relevant via the arts, and vice-versa. Enjoy!

Biocreativity on the Road: Botanical Art at the Austin Convention Center


Texas Botanicals by Jill Bedgood

"Texas Botanicals" by Jill Bedgood in the west corridor of Level 3, Austin Convention Center

For those of you currently at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX head to level 3 of the Austin Convention Center. Along the wall between meeting rooms 8 and 7 you’ll have a chance to view a series of beautiful botanical paintings entitled, “Texas Botanicals” by local artist Jill Bedgood, which are part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Spaces collection. Created between 1996 and 1998 these larger-than-life oil paintings are displayed in series of five panels each and represent “Grasses”, “Shrubs & Aquatic Plants”, “Cacti & Succulents”, “Wildflowers” and “Trees & Vines.” A great example of local biocreativity you can enjoy without leaving the convention center!

And, though it’s a bit early to think about going home, don’t forget to check out more of Austin’s public collection at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport when you leave, which includes a horned lizard sculpture by Bedgood and paintings entitled Green Austin Series by one of my favorite local painters, Jimmy Jalapeeno (located on the walls by security checkpoint 1 and 2).