The Desert Light March/April 2017 | Page 14

The Art of the Microscope

By Bob Killen
Shelly Smith ’ s Exhibit , Cell Portraits , are cell portraits of protozoa , diatoms , algae , and other microscopic life discovered with her microscope while completing her Mojave National Preserve Artist in Residency . She translates these images from glass slides to Gouache Paintings , a milieu of delicate opaque watercolors , but the higher pigment concentrations of this process allow for a range of saturation and hues not found in the conventional watercolor process .
Arrowweed Springs Motif
Smith ’ s exhibit is fascinating , creative , and filled with a perspective rarely found in art media of any type . Moreover , Shelly sought art in places where no desert artists have tread , which is the seeps and springs beneath the Mojave Desert . While much of the desert water is in deep acquirers and reached by well drilling , other water surfaces in natural springs or seeps . ( If the water “ flows ,” it ’ s called a spring . If it “ oozes ” or simply forms a wet area , it ’ s a seep .)
Disarming and Visceral
Shelly ’ s exhibit is a series of 25 paintings , and each stirs a visceral reaction ; they are disarming and yet thoroughly engaging with a haunting beauty that makes us want to see more and see it now . They are a combination of landscapes and portraits of a micro life lived , captured with Henri Cartier-Bresson timing then recaptured as fine paintings revealing tiny organisms with elegant big world charm .
At first view , one may see Smith ’ s work as artful abstractionism , but as one continues to look , one begins to study the images , and eventually you graduate to an understanding that the microbiological world presented is a tantalizing , interrelation of amoeba level documentation with the artist ’ s hand for creative navigation . Shelly guides us through the watery exudation that makes up our springs and seeps and renders scientific and art values that are contemporary in style and classical in complexity .
14 THE DESERT LIGHT | Mar / Apr 2017