Colleen McLaughlin Barlow
The delicate lace work of the human spleenic nerve — the curve of a whalebone — a powerful laser illuminating the night skies — these are the subjects of Colleen McLaughlin Barlow’s art. Working in anatomy labs or the innermost recesses of the most powerful telescopes on earth, she plumbs science for new aesthetic visions.
There were these astonishing x-rays from over 100 years ago at the Animal Anatomy Department of Cambridge University. They were about to be destroyed and the Director allowed me to select from a couple of thousand, a few, which I could use for the basis of art prints. They weren’t even called x-rays — they were referred to as ‘radio-graphs’. The detail was extraordinary and the lyricism of these stunning images is haunting. I worked digitally to create these images. Some of the x-rays revealed dance movements or contemporary sculptures or even ice cave landscapes. They were printed using spit bite etching as well as toyobo photogravure at St. Barnabas Press, Cambridge.
Body as Soul
Upon hearing the diagnosis ‘cancer’ I was numb with shock. Everything about my life was to change. The gift of the disease was an acute awareness of my own mortality. I went to Florence to study art and a chance tour brought me to an astonishing place: La Specola.
It is an eighteenth century facility for the instruction of art and medical students. The models are life-sized and created of wax and represent every aspect of the dissected human body. There are hearts and livers, spleens and uteri, skeletons and nerves, sinews and joints – all extremely realistic. I stood in the middle of the room and wept at the ‘terrible beauty’ of God’s creation. These were extraordinary landscapes which house the soul – structures formed by expediency and evolution. My mind was on fire with the intelligence of what I saw.
That initial exposure to the human body at La Specola in Florence led to a decade of odyssey from Italy to Vancouver, Toronto, Cambridge, Oxford and Vienna. Courteous sponsorship enabled me to work in human anatomy laboratories in these cities.
When a bone is made transparent, it reveals new and striking internal lines. It is transformed into a dream-like object, solid yet ephemeral, fragile and precious. My process is to observe the actual bone in order to make a ‘portrait’ of a particular bone in clay. This clay sculpture is then cast into precious lead crystal at a foundry using the ancient lost wax process.
2021 © COLLEEN MCLAUGHLIN BARLOW. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.