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Willa Downing blends art and science in weather-inspired painting exhibition

“Science and art are two different ways of looking at meaning in the world,” said biochemist and artist Willa Downing on the opening of her exhibition, Maps of Weather, at the Reach gallery in Abbotsford.

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By Martin Castro (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: February 25, 2015

Maps of Weather creatively interprets meteorological weather maps. (Image: Martin Castro)

Maps of Weather creatively interprets meteorological weather maps. (Image: Martin Castro)

“Science and art are two different ways of looking at meaning in the world,” said biochemist and artist Willa Downing on the opening of her exhibition, Maps of Weather, at the Reach gallery in Abbotsford.

“The other approach is philosophy. I guess it [comes down to] asking fundamental questions, and art and science can both be very creative. Science has a few more boundaries, however.”

Downing led a small group of people on a tour of the exhibition, speaking on the composition of her artwork, as well as her background in both art and science.

Downing chose weather as her subject for this exhibition: specifically weather maps, the type the weather channel has in the background as a meteorologist speaks into the camera. The only difference here is that Downing’s interpretation of weather is radically more liberal (and pleasing to the eye) than that of a weather channel studio technician.

The weather represented in Downing’s maps, however, is completely fictitious, as she told the audience. She explained that one set of mixed media paintings focused on the effect that humans have on weather and weather patterns. As she was making the set, she tried to imagine what islands of heat might look like in the Metro Vancouver area. Downing admitted she had taken liberties with the orientation of the pieces, as opposed to having them all with the northern part facing upward, she moved them so that each would work best as an art piece and be more pleasing to the eye.

Downing doesn’t believe it’s unusual to find a scientist who is interested in visual arts.

“I started in chemistry,” said Downing. “I got my bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and then went to art school [at] Emily Carr; after that I got my PhD in biochemistry. I worked as a biologist because my thesis was on molecular biology, so I worked as a research scientist in molecular biology, with plants.”

She noted, however, that there is more freedom in art, which is why she is drawn to it as much as she is.

“I like making things that embody my ideas, aesthetically. I’m more drawn to colours and lines, whereas with science I’m intellectually very stimulated.”

Maps of Weather will be on display at the Reach Gallery Museum until March 1.

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