Throughout history science and art have been close companions, with its practitioners sharing the obsessive-compulsive need to observe the true nature of people and things. But “technology is sucking the romance out of process,” says artist Rhyll Plant.
Our interview has just begun and already we are off topic. Time Out has come to Rhyll’s studio in hilly Castlemaine to discuss The Art of Science exhibition opening at MPRG this month. She’s just one artist featured in this impressive collection of ‘Remarkable scientific illustrations from Museum Victoria' dating back 300 years – which includes ten books that have never been exhibited before. The opening on December 13 marks the very beginning of the exhibition’s two-year regional and interstate tour.
Rhyll Plant has a relationship with the Museum that stretches back to 1970, when the Zoology Dept first employed her as a scientific illustrator. These days she is an Honorary Associate. Her work was a natural inclusion in The Art of Science.
“The works I have in the exhibition are both wood engravings,” she says. “Squid Row, a repeat print based on a sketch in my 1985 field notebook of a squid called Rossia Australis, and Plaice Mat, based on a very old stuffed fish from the archives. The museum purchased a series of my engravings featuring fish with silly titles. One titled Goby Dessert was gifted to the Emperor of Japan by the head of our fish department. The Emperor is also a scientist who works on gobies.”
Oh, great engraver to the Emperor, tell us your secrets. “I use a stereo microscope for drawings of small creatures. It has a camera lucida, which is a mirror device that allows you to see and draw detail. […] I consult with scientists to isolate features, manipulate form and bend perspective to show a specimen to best advantage. I use bits of several specimens to get the best reference. My drawings are mostly black and white stipple made with a .35 Rotring pen. These have clarity and are economical to reproduce.”
We hope you’re paying attention, as Rhyll will be running some talks and hands-on workshops for enthusiasts during this exquisite exhibition.
John James AUDUBON Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) from The Birds of America 1829 Hand coloured aquatint, engraving on paper. Source: Museum Victoria.