Isabella Kirkland, Eclectix Interview
Isabella grew up in Virginia, in a large and happy family. Her mother was an artist and taught her early art skills. In her young adulthood, Isabella spent ten years living and working in NYC, on the Lower East Side. She then moved to San Francisco where she worked with the Whole Earth Catalog. Her early art was sculpture-based – installations which tried to combine 2D with 3D. She currently works as a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco and makes her home on a houseboat in beautiful Sausalito. (For a peek at her floating studio, click here.)
Isabella’s art is lush, depictions of flora and fauna set in their natural environs and composed with scientific knowledge and extensive research. Scientific illustration is a beautiful and engaging art form on its own – the extremely realistic documentation of species is a treat to behold. Her paintings remind one of the beauty of artists like Ernst Haeckel and Rousseau, but she takes it a step further. Not only rendering in an exacting manner, she composes each work almost like a tapestry. Each painting contains a profusion of images – all able to stand on their own as a separate image. Uniting many individual critters, flowers and plants in their true environments and relationships – creating flowing compositions of incredible realistic magnitude and beauty.
Many of her subjects are endangered, threatened by extinction or are extinct – and these paintings act as glorious tributes to their existence.
Isabella created “species keys” for each piece in her Nova series where you can point and click your way around her paintings, learning about each life form and it’s habitat. A “must visit” informative and artfull website. Each painting represents a level in the forest: the floor, the understory, the canopy and finally the emergent, where the tallest trees rise into full sunlight. At each stage, scores of creatures and species are inserted in these environments.
Included with the interview (below), are many paintings by Isabella, including quite a few detail shots cropped from the much larger piece.
My favorite art memory from my childhood is …
When I was little, (pre-reading any way), I remember looking at one of my mom’s art books. Michaelangelo’s slaves. And I remember thinking to myself, ” those were just rocks, before…” I thought that was so cool! That was when I knew I would be an artist, never doubted it once in my life. Course it helped that that’s what I liked to do, draw and make things.
My interest in art/painting started …
It’s really all I ever wanted to do.
I am often inspired and motivated by …
Random things, science of all types, the natural world in all its myriad forms, the behavior of critters, large and small, that reiterate over and over just how complex the world is, the fine grain of complexity, from the atomic through to the cosmic scale.
If I could spend the day with any artist/musician/author (dead or alive) it would be …
It would be Rachael Ruysch or her teacher and mentor, Jan Davidsz DeHeem. They were two of the very best Dutch still life painters and I would have them teach me to paint, You know, those guys protected their trade craft very jealously. Little was published at their own time about how they did their work, plus Rachael Ruysch had 10 kids and her father was Freidrich Ruysch, one of the foremost anatomists of the time. However, if it were to be a living artist, it would be Tiffany Bozic or Madeline von Foerster, both friends right now.
And we would …
and we talk a lot about art making, painting in particular.
The tip or art technique (a specific tidbit of craft, advice, materials or mechanical expertise) that has helped me the most is ….
Something my favorite art teacher, Lester VanWinkle, once said,
”Longevity wins out over brilliance.”
Don’t stop. Don’t disbelieve in your own vision just because others don’t “get” it.
If I could own one piece of art, out of the world’s collections, it would be …
A Memling, or any great Dutch still life piece by a number of those masters, even Otto Martsius vonSchrieck, whose cheap pigments have faded badly.
My current favorite piece of my own art is …
It would be either Canopy (below), because it flowed out with hardly a single reworking of any area; or my latest little sideline sculpture : it is a grazing animal of some sort made of lamb bones left over from a stew I made. Or maybe the “electric” paint brush I made so I can paint faster.
My ultimate project or fantasy is …
My greatest fantasy is to have some one feed me and clothe me and cook and clean for me so that I could just work and not have to think about the other stuff one has to do in order to survive. I could use a really old-fashioned WIFE!
I am currently working on …
My next project is working on ocean species. The next big painting will be a field of brittle stars, The underwater world is going to be a joy to paint: nudibranchs and sea spiders and squat lobsters and blanket octopi. I am trying to do these pieces with more of the phylogeny and other scientific background information included in the painting so that less ancillary reference material is needed beside the work .
(Featured above is one of Isabella’s oceanic series “roughs” in progress. She maps out each specimen according to their size, in relationship to each other.)
The last song I choose to listen to was …
No idea, but it did not have discernible words in English… too distracting. (During our visit, she had Suburbs of Goa playing via the internet…)
The last book I couldn’t put down was …
Dame Dorothy Dunnett’s “Lymond Chronicles” (7 books)
One of my favorite words is …
“Petrichor” (a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.)
One of my favorite smells is …
The smell of rain on dry earth. Vetiver (a perennial grass of the Poaceae native to India) is a smell I love. And musk rose. Does anyone else think that dry cat paws smell like unlit wooden matches?
I can’t live without …
I can’t live without making things… just ask my family! I would go (and do go) nuts without time for a creative outlet, whether that is my work or knitting or sculpting little oddities or using my hands to do something.
It’s not hip, but I really love …
Not hip but I like finding four-leafed clovers (record: 237 in 2 hours), skipping rocks on water, polishing silver, keeping candlesticks full of fresh candles and using them every night for dinner, and my latest obsession: making fine water media brushes from cat guard hairs (I have 2 orange tabbies who happily supply me with plenty of material to work with… especially if I wear black).
Thank you, Isabella – for the wonderful brush you gave us!
A recent favorite motto (or quote) of mine is …
So many to choose from: “First world problems” - may be my current favorite.
If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live in…
Where I am is not too shabby, on a great old ferry-boat in the San Francisco Bay with my studio boat next door. But if I could start over it would be on many green acres with deep hardwood forest and a clean running stream or river with 4 seasons. I am from the south-east and actually miss the heat and humidity.
If you had to name a hero or heroine, an iconic well-known person in your lifetime, who would that be and why?
One of my heroes is Chuck Close. A great artist and he has overcome a physical challenge. I have a spinal cord injury so I respect his endurance, continued fine work, and his not letting his impediment define who he is.
Another is Katherine Hepburn. She won my undying respect for continuing to drive her old station wagon around New York, undisguised, shopping for groceries (albeit at Dean & DeLucca) for herself, well into her 70’s, for keeping at her trade, and for managing to age gracefully. I admire the Obamas immensely: I like to imagine them jumping on the bed in the White House, collapsing in giggles. I am so happy I lived to see the day that a president of African American descent won the highest post in the land. I wish people were not so deeply divided in this country… just imagine what progress could have been made had he not been blocked by ignorance and greed every step of the way.
THE ANIMALS LOOK BACK AT US, Sept 21, 2013 – Oct 20, 2013, Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, Brooklyn, NY
NATURE’S TOOLBOX, August 31 — December 17, 2013. I will be speaking at a symposium at the Ulrich Museum on my work and NATURE’S TOOLBOX on Nov 8, 2013, Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas
ISABELLA KIRKLAND: STILLED LIFE, February 22 2014 – May 18 2014, Dayton Art Institute
(TBA), TWO PERSON SHOW, ISABELLA KIRKLAND (I think with) CATHERINE CHALMERS, Bolinas Museum, Fall 2014
(TBA) ISABELLA KIRKLAND, hopefully Spring 2015 (whenever the new work is ready and there is the “right’ amount for a full show), Feature Inc, New York, NY
LINK: To Isabella’s Website
LINK: Isabella’s talk at TEDxDeExtinction
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