Work by Edward Abraham
1 29 August, 2006
A theoretical physicist by training, Wellington artist and scientist Ed Abraham has been able to explore visual ideas on a scale most of us can’t imagine. While working with a team studying the growth of plankton in the Southern Ocean, he witnessed the effect of dissolving iron particles in the sea. The resulting streak of phyto-plankton was 150km long, and the satellite photograph made the cover of Nature magazine.
These days Ed is freelancing in ecological research (the sex life of lobsters is a current project), and he’s also making startlingly beautiful abstract artworks by employing a simple scientific principle. “I’m interested in the formation of spatial patterns. Branching patterns are everywhere in the natural world as a design solution, but they’re rare in the human world.”
Ed’s exquisite branching designs are made by squashing paint tightly between two sheets of glass to create something known as a Hele-Shaw cell, then lifting one sheet to release the partial vacuum. This forces the paint into elegant patterns like the veins of a leaf, or a braided river seen from the air, or like nothing else you’ve seen. The resulting artworks will be exhibited at Idiom Studio during August.
Ed decided early that “physics was where the big questions were”, and did a doctorate at Cambridge in a research group headed by Stephen Hawking. “He had just written A Brief History of Time. He was very intimidating to talk to, but he certainly deserves his reputation for genius.”
Back in New Zealand Ed found that “oceanography suited me really well, because it’s a mash-up of physics and biology,” and worked for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) studying how plankton is dispersed in the ocean. “It’s just like when you put milk in coffee it gets teased out into filaments. I was seeing the same process on a 100-km long scale, and the results were really beautiful. So then I started trying to capture those stirring patterns using paint and glass.”
Ed’s first experiments at Helle-Shaw artworks were shown at Idiom last Christmas. Since then he’s been producing larger works, up to 500mm square, and is collaborating with Marcel Riel of Wellington’s Riel Lighting on adding tiny lights to the frames surrounding the works.
Now Ed’s considering making works like these on a much larger scale, and using other materials such as epoxy resin. “Another thing I’d like to explore is keeping the paint in a wet state by leaving the glass plates sealed up. I’ve only got a certain amount of control over the final image, so there’s a constant tension between randomness and order.”