A Microscopic Landscape

Martyn Kelly’s blog, “Of Microscopes and Monsters,” is a wonderful blend of biology, art, and ecological commentary.  Kelly is a British ecologist who specializes in measuring water quality using microscopic plants such as diatoms.  He also has art training which serves him well in presenting the world of tiny plants that he calls home.  He has used his watercolors to illustrate a book that has the same name as his blog and is available online as a free download.

In a recent post, Kelly cites an artwork by Henry Underhill, an amateur microscopist.  The illustration appears in Kenneth Clark’s book, Landscape into Art.  It is a pastel of microscopic organisms done on black paper.  Clark writes that “the microscope and telescope have so greatly enlarged the range of our vision . . .  that by our new standards of measurement the most extensive landscape is practically the same size as the hole through which the burrowing ant escapes from our sight. We know that every form we perceive is made up of smaller and yet smaller forms, each with a character foreign to our experience,” and adds that anyone seeing the Underhill work in the original “is immediately reminded of Klee and Miro.”

This relationship of microscopic life and landscape is something I’ve never considered, yet it is obvious why Kelly was drawn to this quote and to this pastel.  Many of his works are really landscapes of the microscopic life of freshwater rivers and lakes in England.  He has taken the world of the microscope slide and created richer renditions of it in watercolor.