WHEN The Gisborne Herald last year met up with Sir Paul Callaghan he was excited about the approaching Transit of Venus celebrations but resigned to the fact that, though he was key driver, he may not actually make it . . . the cancer he had been fighting was getting the upper hand. Even so, the high-profile physicist appeared upbeat, excited about the future of New Zealand and what could be done to make it bright.
But when she painted him a year earlier, artist Marianne Muggeridge said that though Sir Paul appeared relaxed, she sensed something was amiss. “He was coming to terms with his illness when I was painting him and I think that’s in his eyes . . . there’s a sadness,” Muggeridge told the Taranaki Daily News.
As an award-winning portrait artist that is what Muggeridge does well – drawing out what may not be obvious and transferring that onto canvas in a truthful manner.
However, she admits that in recent years, some of what her subjects have spoken to her about during sittings has gone over her head. That’s because many of them were, like Sir Paul, high-achieving New Zealand scientists who would speak to her of physics-this and nano-that.
She would just nod politely, she says, and carry on painting. And this week Gisborne viewers will get to see the result of her endeavours in the touring exhibition The Art Of Science.
Of the nearly 60 portraits included in the show, six of them are by Muggeridge. They join depictions of other eminent Kiwi scientists painted by prominent artists like Irene Ferguson and Stephen Martyn Welch, as well as portraits commissioned in the 1970s and 1980s by Charles Fleming, president of the Royal Society of NZ which owns the entire collection.
Curated by science historian/writer Rebecca Priestley, the exhibition was designed to combine art and science and to explore the interaction between the two.
The paintings are accompanied by text detailing the scientists’ innova-tions and successes, providing a narra-tive of New Zealand’s scientific history.
And the interplay of the two disci-plines is also evident in the display of the scientists’ field journals and sketch books, which reveal an eye for colour and detail.
“Scientists can be artists as well,” Priestley said. “People would submit their academic papers and often draw their own illustrations.”
One of the exhibition highlights is a DNA portrait of the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman — created from a sample taken from a cheek scraping.
Muggeridge said that her favourite of her own pieces was the portrait of a Hawaiian-style shirt-clad Nobel Prize-winning chemist Alan McDiarmid, which she painted five years before his death in 2007: “He was a naturist and would have posed in the nude,” she told the TDN. “But we thought the Royal Society might not want that.”
■ The Art Of Science will be on show at Tairawhiti Museum from tomorrow.