Paul Whittaker

My art is shaped by my past life as a research biologist: I look closely at the natural world around me, explore the common ancestry of Humanity with other living things, and seek non-theistic paths to spiritual awareness and enlightenment.

I was born in 1955 and grew up mostly in New York State though we traveled widely in the US, especially the Southwest. I attended Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) from 1973- 77, graduated with a BA in Biology, worked briefly in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then went on to graduate work at the Univ. of Texas, Austin. My dissertation research was on the population biology of mistletoe growing on mesquite in the desert brush country of south Texas, and of the insects that feed on it (prominently the Great Purple Hairstreak). I returned to Ithaca in 1986 and worked for a while in the Cornell Dept. of Plant Pathology (integrated pest management of conifer tree farms) before moving to the Chicago area in 1992.

I began making art to keep busy and it evolved over time into a new career, which in recent years has become increasingly integrated with my first career. I started out with expressionistic color pencil drawings (sometimes traced from photographs) and evolved from there into larger, mixed media pieces as I developed my own ideas of color and composition. I studied art history and did grant writing for local art organizations, branched out into urban landscape photography and found object assemblage. My mixed media work combines water soluble paint or ink, oil and chalk pastels and color pencils: themes range from slightly abstracted images of animals (lots of butterflies!) to abstract designs to allegorical “mutant” figurative work that combines human features with plants and animals and uses color to highlight ecological relationships.

In 2001-02 I completed Openlands TreeKeepers program; I started doing research on urban tree populations and taking an active interest in local conservation issues. In early 2004 I acquired a document scanner and found I could use it for botanical illustration. This led to my Illustrated Guide to the Trees of Chicagoland which is available on cd.

As I learned to use more sophisticated software (Adobe Photoshop) I began using some of my botanical images as templates for abstract images. My illustration is strongly influenced by concepts from abstract expressionism (i.e. using a leaf to create a “color field” a la Rothko) and Photoshop “filtering”, which can be used to highlight fine anatomy as well as to create a wide range of abstract effects.

Email: grassrootsbotany@gmail.com

Website: http://www.fota.com/paulw

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