20 May 2020

#DrawnToGeoscience: Art asks questions, science seeks answers

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#DrawnToGeoscience is a series of posts by artists who draw about science and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. This week, Adam Swanson. This post is adapted from a post in a sister blog here

Science and art are deeply related. Both involve looking hard at what is around us: taking time to observe and collect information to filter through brains. Art asks questions, science seeks answers.
I have been drawing and painting since I was a child. I studied art in college and took it with me everywhere afterward. In 2009 I moved to a small city in northern Minnesota to focus more closely on painting. I have generally painted about things that interest me: environmentalism, technology, and humanity. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to work on paintings where all three of these interests mingle.

One of Artist-At-Sea Adam Swanson’s paintings, showing lab work on a research vessel.


Insight and Information
With my time on the R/V Falkor, I am excited to readdress some of the ideas I was able to explore during my time working alongside scientists in Antarctica, as well as build upon my recent project working as an artist with researchers in the Lake Superior Water Basin. I will create a series of paintings directly related to humans investigating while using technology to learn more about our ocean systems. My intent as artist in this program aboard the R/V Falkor is to gather insight and information about environmentally focused research. I am set up with a painting space in the Wet Lab, surrounded by scientists, ocean mud, chemicals, as well as a wide array of colorful test tubes and equipment. It is an active place, and the perfect space for creating direct paintings about this important ocean research. I have two paintings in the works right now and look forward to getting into many more during my time on board! The Hunting Bubbles expedition, led by Drs. Anna Michel and Scott Wankel, will allow me to learn specifically about the instruments and techniques used to better understand the processes responsible for the transfer of methane from the seafloor, and therefore how these gasses affect the local area. I am fascinated by the tools researchers use to capture data. The scientists and ship crew are building upon years of experience, using tested high-tech gear while also inventing crucial devices in front of my eyes. In addition to creating paintings aboard the R/V Falkor, I will bring back experience, videos, and photographs to my home studio to create large, thoughtful paintings. I have been on the ship for a mere five days and already have enough material for a year’s worth of artwork.

Artist-At-Sea Adam Swanson working on one of his paintings in the Wet Lab.SOI / Kevin T. McHugh


One of Artist-At-Sea Adam Swanson’s paintings, featuring crew working with a CTD rosette.

Above and Beyond
I believe researchers can use the voices of artists to express their ideas and findings in diverse ways. In my local community of Northern Minnesota, scientists spend their lives learning to collect and process data. Expressing these findings to groups outside of their peers has often become a secondary goal. Creating artwork exploring these processes is one way to draw outsiders into the complex theories built upon years of research and data collection. This amazing opportunity aboard the R/V Falkor will broaden my connections with members of the scientific community, sharpen my skills as an interpretive artist, and strengthen my level of experience investigating natural systems at sea. I will use this experience to create an engaging, colorful series of paintings highlighting the dynamic research happening around us every day.

This post was originally published here