Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page and digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No.10, 2016, by Macoto Murayama, acquired in 2013 and 2016 by the University of Dundee Museum Collections with NFA grants of £15,000 and £1,267 respectively.
The University of Dundee has a long history of encouraging collaboration between art and science, going back to its origins in the 1880s when two of its most notable professors, D’Arcy Thompson (1860-1948), Professor of Biology, and Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), Professor of Botany, were pioneering visual thinkers who worked regularly with both scientists and artists. The art critic Herbert Read later told Thompson: ‘you have built the bridge between art and science’.
One of the most significant collections held by the University is that of the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum, comprising the surviving natural history specimens and teaching aids of the internationally renowned polymath. D’Arcy’s collection was used not only in teaching his students but also in researching his landmark book On Growth and Form, published one hundred years ago, which pioneered the new science of mathematical biology. Described as ‘the greatest work of prose in twentieth century science’, the book has had a huge influence in many fields. It showed that the complexity of nature can be understood through basic mathematical and physical laws and that living organisms are not static but constantly affected by the forces acting upon them. This has profoundly influenced many artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Hamilton, Jackson Pollock and Salvador Dali.
Over the past few years, the University has been building a collection of significant artworks inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s ideas and collections, two of which have been grant-aided by the National Fund for Acquisitions.
The renowned British sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA (b1954) discovered On Growth and Form as an art student. His practice has always been informed and inspired by the study of natural phenomena, particularly the underlying principles determining growth. In his words ‘geometry is the theme on which nature plays her infinite variations’. With help from the NFA and the Art Fund, we were able to acquire his large-scale sculpture In the Beginning, which evokes cells multiplying within an expanding membrane. The sculpture is sited at the modern entrance to the University’s 19th-century Carnelley Building and can be visited by the public during normal working hours.
Although the work of Japanese artist Macoto Murayama (b1984) takes a very different form, he too takes the mathematics of nature as his starting point. He has become internationally known for his exquisitely beautiful botanical artworks which he terms ‘inorganic flora’. These extraordinary images are created after minutely dissecting real flowers and studying them under a microscope. His drawings are then modelled in 3D imaging software and rendered into 2D compositions before being printed in large scale. The print we acquired is from a series showing white clover, Trifolium repens, and was created for an exhibition of his work we held in 2016.
Macoto’s stunning print was one of almost 100 artworks from our D’Arcy Thompson art collection shown earlier this year in A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. The exhibition kicked off a year of celebrations for the centenary of On Growth and Form, including events in New York, Amsterdam and London, culminating in a major conference and exhibition in Dundee in October. Further details can be found at www.ongrowthandform.org
Curator of Museum Services
University of Dundee