I first encountered the meticulous, gorgeous nanotechnology and molecular computer art of Murray Robertson in 2009, while perusing jpegs at the Foresight Institute’s online Nanomedicine Gallery. My favorite image was vibrant and visionary; it depicted a glorious techno-future where minuscule robots navigate our bloodstreams, to silently combat viruses, toxins, free radicals, fungi and other malevolencies.
Seeking additional nano-fun, I emailed Robertson; he referred me to another collection of his painstaking work, where I browsed joyfully, eventually acquiring my four favorite prints. Murray, I learned, is Scottish, he’s been visualizing his scientific ideas since 1998, and he’s a “Master Studio Printer” at the Glascow Print Studio. Two of his notable projects - “A Visual Interpretation of the Table of Elements” and the ChemSoc Timeline - were created for the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry; his client list also includes Scottish Television and the BBC Visual Effects Department.
I’m not going to be in the British isles this spring, but if I was, I’d attend Murray’s upcoming show, Observations, that he’s presenting with a science-and-art cohort, Jim Pattison. Their exhibition will be in the Glasgow Print Studio Gallery, from March 9th - April 8th.
The population of techno-progressive artists is tiny, but perhaps accelerating. Just last month, Shane Hope’s solo show, “Transubstrational: As a Smartmatter of Nanofacture” was presented at the Winkleman Gallery in New York. I interviewed Shane Hope about his dense creations, and now, to maintain my role as an H+ art impresario, I’ve interviewed Murray Robertson as well:
Hank Pellissier: When did you become interested in science?
Murray Robertson: As a young boy I spent many hours browsing in bookshops, attracted to (and fascinated by) the illustrations featured in volumes on a wide variety of subjects including astronomy, chemistry, biology, history and archaeology. This fascination has remained with me and continues to trigger a response today.
HP: How did you create the nanotechnology photos?
MR: The images are created digitally using a combination of 3D modeling and photo editing software utilizing a variety of source imagery and information.
The scientists consulted were able to provide diagrams, charts, micrographs and verbal explanations of their respective research areas. As individual images progressed further meetings were undertaken to hopefully ensure a balance between the clarity of presentation of scientific ideas and creative interpretation.
HP: Do you believe art is a great way of helping people understand science and new technology?
MR: I believe that art can make science more “accessible” and can perhaps assist in bridging some of the gaps in understanding and awareness of the complexities inherent in new technology. In the projects I have worked on there has been a general consensus from those involved that if viewers of these works are enlightened by even one item of scientific knowledge then the outcome is a positive one.
HP: Do you regard nanotechnology as important in the future? Do you fear it or are you eagerly anticipating its potential benefits?
MR: Unless many of the current predictions are wrong it seems that advanced nanotechnology will have a significant impact upon our lives within the next few years in many diverse areas including computers, engineering and biomedical. I remain optimistic as to the positive applications of these innovations, especially in medical science.
HP: Do critics ever say “that isn’t art?” Do they try to separate science and art?
MR: Expounding science-based imagery or ideas in a “fine art” context or environment undoubtedly presents challenges to the formal aesthetic values of some people. Especially so, if the imagery is computer generated.
HP: Your photos are very beautiful (to me) - are they beautiful to you as well?
MR: I enjoy the creativity, concentration and immersion required for the production of the imagery I create. Perhaps, for me, that is where any beauty really lies. I hope a sense of that pleasure is communicated through the works.
HP: If you could invent anything scientific, what would it be?
MR: Undoubtedly, a system that could provide accurate long range weather forecasts.
HP: What artists, and scientists, do you admire?
MR: John White (who accompanied Francis Drake on his 1565 expedition to North America) and Robert Fludd (“one of the last of the true Renaissance men”) are two artists for whom I have the greatest respect.
I am consistently amazed by the innovative work of many of the early pioneers in science including John Dalton, Joseph Black, Dimitri Mendeleev, Charles Darwin, Neils Bohr and Paul Dirac.
HP: If you could have nanobots in your body, what would they do?
MR: I would wish them to be dedicated to monitoring and maintaining my general health and well being.