Author Robert A. Heinlein called butterflies self-propelled flowers.
“They’re nature’s art,” Victoria Bayless says. “Each one is a surprise.”
So when the Louisiana Art & Science Museum paired butterfly specimens with brilliant photo collages of the dazzling insects, it was a case of science meets art.
And the result, “Flutterby: Butterfly,” is absolutely captivating.
“There’s just something about butterflies — they are magical,” Humphreys says. “They are exquisitely beautiful, and they’re just as interesting when you turn them over because they’re as beautiful on the bottom as they are on the top.”
Humphreys has four photo collages in the show, each depicting a specimen from a collection he purchased from a supplier in Ohio.
At first glance, the photos look like paintings, but Humphreys developed a process to create a bigger-than-life brilliance.
“I photograph them with a high-end digital camera with a macro lens,” Humphreys says. “Everything started with a real photo. Then I expounded a process, where I create a background on the computer and then scale the photo large. It’s almost like working with algorithms, because the photo is produced in pieces.”
Humphreys divides the pieces, then reassembles them by hand on a canvas. He’s previously shown this work at Caffery Gallery, whose owner pegged the term “hand-applied photographic collages.” A gallery owner in Houston has labeled Humphreys a nouveau naturalist.
And this nouveau naturalist’s work just naturally complements the arthropod museum’s specimens that Bayless and her staff have grouped into families and regions.
“This project was so much fun for me, because my primary work is with beetles,” Bayless says. “Beetles can be beautiful, too. Some of them are even iridescent. But the butterflies were fun to discover.”
The arthropod museum is more of a research facility than a museum. It’s not open for visitors to view specimens and artifacts.
But it does house more than 1 million insect specimens, part of which includes a donated butterfly collection that dates to the 1920s.
“Some of these butterflies have been stored in glassine (waxy) envelopes as early as the 1920s and haven’t been taken out until now,” Bayless says.
“The butterflies are dry when you take them out of the envelopes, and you have to place them in a moist chamber in order to get their wings to relax and open,” Bayless says. “The moisture will seep into the wings, which makes them open. There’s an art to doing this, and we weren’t successful with some of the butterflies. Their wings were brittle and broke off.”
Elizabeth Weinstein, the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s curator, explained to Bayless that the exhibit illustrates the museum’s mission of bringing art and science together.
“She said that though we would be grouping the butterflies in a scientific way, this was also an art exhibit,” Bayless says. “So, I started thinking about how to arrange the specimens in an artistic way. The butterflies are so naturally beautiful that it wasn’t hard to do.”
Bayless also made the discovery of the butterflies’ beautiful undersides. “So, I showed some of the specimens’ undersides in the cases to illustrate this,” she says.
And the result is a migration of self-propelled flowers created by nature’s paintbrush.