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Painting the Endangered World

Painting the Endangered World

Isabella Kirkland

About This Talk

March 22, 02016

Utilizing scientific acumen and techniques developed by 17th century Dutch masters, Isabella Kirkland’s paintings document hundreds of species which may not survive into the future. If you have visited the website for Long Now’s Revive and Restore project then you have seen her art which poignantly illustrates the importance of the genetic rescue challenge that Revive has taken on.

For this special event at The Interval we displayed Kirkland's art at The Interval before the talk, so our audience could see her detailed work up close. This included her most recent painting "Nudibranchia," as well as examples of over three decades of her art in a variety of media. Her talk includes a brief retrospective of her career, followed by a deep dive into her current painting process. She describes not only her composition and painting techniques, but also her research method and how her preparation and materials assure these paintings will last for a century or more.

Kirkland also goes in depth on "Nudibranchia"; her painting shows 206 different nudibranchs, celebrating the wild variety of physical and behavioral traits that has evolved in these gastropods. Uniquely ubiquitous, nudibranchs inhabit every part of every ocean: from shallow reefs and mudflats to the depth of a thermal vent, from the Arctic to the equator. In all it is estimated there are between 3,000 and 6,000 species of nudibranch. But, given their profundity and how much of Earth and ocean are still unexplored, those number may be below the mark.

Kirkland's paintings draw attention to contemporary conundrums of humankind’s relationship to nature. Modeled on the work of seventeenth-century Dutch still life painters, she paints her subjects faithfully to life and at actual size based on hours of research and observation. Her quarter-century long endeavor to document plants and animals which we are likely to lose to extinction in the decades ahead is entirely analog.

Isabella Kirkland's paintings are built for longevity with the hope that the images survive long after the biota are gone, to stand as mute record to their passage. Mixing old techniques, scientific acumen, and keen observation, her paintings act as snapshots of modern attitudes towards other forms of life. Unusually, Kirkland's work has exhibited about equally between art and natural history contexts. She has collaborated with Long Now’s Revive and Restore project to paint flora and fauna that are gone, going or coming back. For this special event at The Interval Kirkland discusses her artistic path over decades including the Manhattan art scene of the 01980s as well as her most recent work "Nudibranchia" which includes over 200 varieties of colorful sea slugs.

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