Howard Paine

Much of my studio work for the past decade was borne out of the investigation of the way technology can affect organisms, even down to the molecular level. This is evidenced by such cases as Dolly the cloned sheep, embryonic stem cells, cancer cells, and other organisms that have been likewise created and/or mutated. The influence of technology upon organisms is not a one-way street, nor is it strictly an intentional enterprise.  Unintentional mutations in organisms abound. Benign virii may suddenly become hazardous, and technology must adapt quickly to catch up with nature.

I find science and scientific imagery a powerful source for work both visually and conceptually. The influence of science on everyday life is underappreciated and under-recognized; so to is the potential for science to transform future experiences and life itself. It is not my goal to present a concrete opinion or perspective to viewers, but to start a conversation, to suggest to the viewer that such contemplation is worthwhile.

There has always been a deep interest and love of process evident in my work. It is a personal dialogue with the materials and the ideas, built up layer by layer over time. These processes can be physical (the cutting in reduction woodcuts), or virtual (concealing and revealing digital information). I easily transit between these two poles and they frequently overlap in the form of hybrid digital/traditionally printed works such as Transmission#3, where a woodcut key image is printed over a base digital image. I collect botanicals- leaves, seed pods, and flowers, as well as insects that I find in my yard or on walks. I photograph these forms with a camera or use a flat bed scanner (which functions like a camera with a very limited depth of field). The objects are combined with drawings, prints, ink wash and other hand mark making that may also be transformed digitally. The combination of the photographic and hand working allows the viewer to make literal and inferential interpretations.

Recently there have been two significant developments in my work. The first has been an opportunity to work with research scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. After a decade of reading and thinking about science at a distance, I am now engaged at close range. I have been granted access to images and information that are currently being used in research for a variety of diseases, particularly cancer. In addition, I have had illuminating conversations with the scientists who are actively doing this research. This has allowed me to understand the science behind their work, but also to probe their thoughts and emotional responses as well.

The second development is a realization that one direction of my work has moved away from an organic/scientific theme and now focuses on the mortality of the individual. Life span is finite, and I am interested in the shell, what remains after death both physically and as source for memory. The image Lepidoptera is such an example. The physical body is a part of a process or a cycle, not only in a spiritual sense, but in a biological sense as well. The aging of my parents and a personal cancer scare have influenced this idea. The botanical and insect forms that I was using as proxies in imagining the scientific work began to speak louder about the passing from life to death and what remains. These dead things were still beautiful powerful forms, and as I have collected them over many years I have developed a kind of relationship with them. I observe changes in these forms over a period of months and years, drawing and photographing them again and again, watching them change, decay and transform.