‘Making Meaning’ was our first ART340 assignment, and we were tasked with creating a painting inspired by one or more objects found in the science building. The Keefe Gallery is full of fossils, crystals, and various other science-y objects, and I found myself immediately drawn to anything with teeth. There was a fossil of a small bird with sharp teeth, models of prehistoric human skulls, and a part of a rodent jawbone with the teeth still embedded. However, I was most interested in the small shark tooth at the bottom of one display.
I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve always been drawn to sharks. In middle school, I made a Hammerhead sculpture in my art class; my Freshman year of college, I made a Great White cardboard wearable for an assignment; I’ve been doodling sharks in the margins of my notebooks for years. I like how they are inherently neutral creatures – to anything that isn’t prey, at least – and just how ancient they are. History and time play a role in much of my work, so I see the thread between that and my interest in sharks.
I was also inspired by an amethyst crystal and a piece of amber with an embedded insect. I quickly drew a connection between these objects and began thinking about the idea of preservation. How does nature preserve objects? Fossils preserve the skeleton, amber preserves the whole creature, extreme cold can preserve tissues, and some places’ conditions are just right that mummification can occur.
The word ‘preservation’ can not only refer to the remains of one creature, but also the life of the species. Because of humans, literally countless species have gone extinct and countless more are threatened, so the idea of conservation and preservation of the remaining members is of utmost importance. We have been hunting sharks for hundreds of years – whether for sport, food, or “punishment” for shark attacks – and our increasing destruction of the oceans is also harming these creatures.
I wanted to explore the idea of the different ways nature preserves an object, whether it be embedded in amber, fossilized in stone, or crystal geode kept safe under layers of rock. I like to paint very representational images, but with an abstract kind of twist, whether it is manipulating an element, changing the color palette, or just making up an object that isn’t real, but is painted realistically enough that a viewer would assume it does exist. While fossilized shark teeth are real, the odds of finding one in amber – which is coniferous tree resin – are slim to none. Likewise, shark teeth cannot turn into amethyst crystals, nor is it likely that a geode would grow to the exact shape of a shark tooth.
The end result of my painting is virtually unchanged from the piece I envisioned, and I’m very happy with the result; the only changes I would make would be to add more definition to the amber and more texture to the fossil. Like many artists, my hands usually start working before my brain does, which can make it difficult to explain the ideas I convey in my work. Often times, when I do know exactly what I want to say in a piece, I feel like I let myself down when it doesn’t fulfill my vision or make the impact I want it to. However, I’m getting better at thinking conceptually in the prep stages of a piece, and in this project I think I was able to fully realize my initial idea into a finished painting – and was able to explain that idea verbally, too.