The Science of Art and the Art of Science

Have you ever been faced with making a “now-or-never” decision that would forever change your life’s course?  When there is a fork in the road, trusting your intuition is the bravest courses of action you can take.  No one knows this better than Henry Jabbour (MFA 2015) former scientist turned painter.  Last month, he sat down with us to share a bit about his decision and journey down the road less travelled.

Henry Jabbour’s life was a crossroads.  Having reached an inflexion point in his research career, Henry found himself having to make a choice: a drastic decision to either continue trail blazing the path of his twenty-year career as a scientist or pursue a neophyte path as an artist.

Prior to 2011, Henry was content with his work as a scientist. He was at the top of his field as a senior scientist, program leader and honorary professor at the University of Edinburgh.  With his own lab and two decades of research under his belt, Henry‘s world was all things female reproductive health, including the establishment of pregnancy on a molecular level, pre-term labor and its consequences on babies.  With such a valuable research portfolio, Henry was offered the highest honor as a scientist - a Chair at the Medical School of the University of Edinburgh.

Until this point, Henry’s passion for the arts was confined to the evening classes and weekend workshops he dabbled in at the Leith School of Art.  He was, however, becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of time he had to explore his artistic vision.  And his passion was becoming too loud to ignore.

Henry weighed the high cost of freedom to pursue life as a full time artist.  Ultimately, that meant Henry had to decline the University’s offer bringing his career-long research to a screeching and abrupt halt. The decision was “painful” but one he knew he had to make.  It was either going to be now or never.  And the time was now.  His decision was also inspired by a Goethe quote from a friend shared with him at the time: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
In 2011, he decided to study art full time for two years at the Leith School of Art with mostly cheers from his family and fellow colleagues.

The World is Small
Henry took courses at Leith School of Art taught by Academy alumnus Kenneth Le Riche (MFA 2002).  Immediately, Henry sought solace in Le Riche’s mentorship and shared his goals of receiving an MFA in painting where he could gain “traditional skills with a contemporary approach.”  It was Le Riche who encouraged Henry to apply to the Academy despite limited experience in art, and helped Henry ready his portfolio and artist’s statement for the application process.
Once Henry received word that he was accepted to the Academy, he knew he had made the right decision.  His family and friends were also by now in full support of his passion.  
During his career as a scientist, Henry had travelled extensively in the USA, attending conferences and spending sabbatical at Harvard University in Boston.  Despite unfamiliarity with the city, on arriving in New York, Henry felt “completely blessed” and an immediate sense of calm once in Tribeca.

Outsiders Paradise
Henry is no stranger to the feelings of being an outsider.  Originally from Lebanon, Henry received his PhD from The University of Sydney and subsequently settled in the United Kingdom, moving to Scotland in 1995.  Interested in the fragility of the human emotions and experiences, Henry’s work explores “the figure and its sense of belonging to, or alienation from, its environment.  There is a sense of nostalgia and a life-long quest.” Reflecting his own journey, Henry explained “there is a duality, a sense of belonging in my work.  I feel Scotland is my home but I don’t quite belong there.  Lebanon is where I feel I belong culturally but it is no longer home. In both places I’m not entirely at ease, my sense of belonging is marginal at best.” 

Art of Science, Science of Art
In terms of his career transition, Henry pulls from his past experiences as a scientist and finds a lot of similarities between the two practices.  “The art of science, science of art is fueled by intuition and your work is a direct response.  It’s all out and unwavering.”  Henry adds “There is a commitment, dedication, to create, think laterally, hit the wall and go thru it in both science and art.  When you hit the wall you have to figure it out.  I have the training as a scientist which comes along with a stubbornness and commitment to long hours that also is required for artists.” 

Henry’s commitment to his artistic practice is rooted in an unwavering determination. Henry reflects “I’ve made the decision to rebuild my life spending time far from my family and loved ones back in Scotland.”  Yet simultaneously “it has been a humbling and freeing experience.”  In his first semester, Henry has already “expanded beyond measure” and has been inspired by his fellow peers.  Now clear and more determined than ever, he knows this is only the beginning and to take things day by day.  “I’m interested in growing as an artist,” he says “I’m on a life long journey.”  And the Academy is thrilled to guide him along the way.


Follow Henry Jabbour (MFA 2015) and other members of the Class of 2015 by clicking the label "First Year Experience" or see their work on the Academy's online artwork gallery. 

If you have any questions for Henry, please leave them in the comments section of the blog.

Looking at the Inside - Class of 2015 Interviews (part one)

Recovering from first semester finals - I think everyone agrees, it was very intense! Right?!.. [Laugh]… However Christmas is a perfect time to reflect on the past three months and meditated upon how much was done in our first semester.  An uphill battle for students and faculty - excuse the phrase - a double 'high-five' is well deserved.
For the First Years the past semester felt like a 'boot-camp,' reviewing and pushing our technical skills to the limit, creating work that was both contemporary in discourse, while based on traditional skills. Deliberately challenged not only by practical knowledge but also through the capacity to improve our artistic instincts. While watching the Second Years' exciting progress towards their mid-year critiques. The quality of work created was amazing.  Closely admired, meticulously and carefully analyzed by all the faculty and students.
As promised, I interviewed some of the Academy’s Class of 2015 to share their oeuvre and the interesting background that each of them come from.  I’ve had the pleasure to get to know, share ambitions and mutual passions with each this fall at the Academy. 
I asked them a few simple questions: 
What inspires your work? And who are you inspired by?

Manizales, Caldas. Colombia
Pontificial Javeriana University
Being an artist for me means to able to communicate through something as simple as representation and interpretation of an image. The process to get to representation is not simple at all, and I'm never pleased with the result. My process includes a method of gratuitous development, which allows the brush to meet the canvas and freely let the image search for itself. Most of the time a Phenomenological approach is present, which express a feeling of the material used and the observed object, letting it be felt.
I prefer to let the brush do its work. Seeking for expressiveness the hand guides the brush through aggressive and passive movements conducted by the artist hand. It excites me to observe a symphony on the surface, made by rough materials such as paint and canvas. My painting is about letting it "Be a Painting," relationships between marks, tones, planes and form.
If I think about a painting it would be "Harbor of Trieste" by Egon Schiele. One can observe how much excitement he had with shapes and harmony presented in the work.  Joaquin Sorolla is someone who's oeuvre I always recall, I'm fascinated by his intent of expressing so much with minimal mark-making

Work by Esteban Ocampo Giraldo (MFA 2015)

Work by Esteban Ocampo Giraldo (MFA 2015)

West Bloomfield, Detroit, Michigan
The College for Creative Studies
Wayne State University
Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art
I like the idea of taking something shallow or superficial and cramming it together with the opposite.  I try to create paintings in a way that embodies that idea.  Typically I paint portraits of people by layering strokes of paint upon paint in a way that reveals all layers of the process.  I think of each stroke as a cut or a scar.  To me each stroke of paint is like a memory that contains both physical and emotional content.  When viewed from a distance the paintings look more like an illusion of a person’s superficial appearance.  When viewed from close up the paintings lose their superficial, illusionistic quality and become abstracted into layers of lines and colors that I label as being that person’s non-physical content, or all the things that make us who we are minus the superficial, physical crap.
A friend recently introduced me to Tomory Dodge.  I like the trajectory of his body of work. There isn't one piece I necessarily like more than another. I like how I can look at his pieces and see how his previous ideas have influenced his recent ideas.

Work by Eric Pedersen (MFA 2015)

Work by Eric Pedersen (MFA 2015)

Rochester, New York
Maryland Institute College of Art
I paint because I feel compelled to. I am interested in the transient nature of the experience of life, and I make images as a means of contemplating where I am in my life, in a physical and metaphysical regard. My work operates as a relic of a felt experience. My oeuvre, broadly speaking, deals with complicated relationships, ideas of isolation, abandonment, and the illusion of time. I am interested in people, spaces and objects as individuals, each possessing a unique presence and aura. I seek to capture the psychic qualities of the figure, or a space; and I find that spaces that are defined by detritus and decay possess a stillness that is most conducive to capturing the sensation.
My work would probably fall within the genre of perceptual, or representational painting. I am interested in the tradition of interpreting the plastic world as a conduit to address my conceptual concerns. Abandoned spaces, in particular, serve as a muse for me, because I think they are a form of contemporary memento mori, and also because I find the energy of the void quite interesting. My work tends to be de-saturated, or operates within a predominantly tonal framework. I use color selectively because I find in doing so the work visually changes volume - loud moments of color, in contrast to the quiet of a cooler monochromatic pallet. 
The painting I think about most often is The Dinner, by Antonio Lopez Garcia. I find his decision to elongate the head of the human form on the right quite surprising. The visual variety of moments of collaged photos peppered throughout the painting creates an interesting dialog between the highly rendered trompe l’oeil. Pentimenti are visible through the more translucent chapters of the painting, which offer insight into the artist's process of continually reworking the form to find a greater truth about observation.

Work by Ryan Schroeder (MFA 2015)

Work by Ryan Schroeder (MFA 2015)

Bronx, New York
Long Island University, BFA, Digital Art
Most of my work is autobiographical. I'm inspired by my friends, family and everyday life of growing up in New York/Dominican Republic culture. I intend to recreate intimate moments of my life captured by camera.  Merely using photography and paint as transcendental conduit. This process allows me to relieve the moment in a purging process of transformation. My methodology consists of the belief that the artist and her life are integrated.
Some of my process is composed of shoot, print, paste, paint, scan, paint and repeat until the primary mechanic image is lost. Sometimes, replacing the traditional canvas, there is a necessity to incorporate found objects to carry the picture. Through this process I am examining/exploring/re-creating my past and present. Using photo as an object to create art that exemplify transformation. Past and present experiences take on a new physical form.
Recalling the first painting that ever inspired me to create art was Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night. I remember being seeing it for the first time at MoMA, going home and replicating it as best as I could. I remember standing in front of the painting for almost an hour and staring at the whimsicalities of every stroke on the canvas.  Anselm Kiefer is another painter who paints in a similar way.
Work by Jehdy Ann Vargas (MFA 2015)


Camila Rocha (MFA 2015) will be blogging here throughout the year about her first year at the Academy and moving to New York City.  Check the label "First Year Experience" or "Camila Rocha" for more posts about her first year at the Academy. 

If you have any questions for Camila, please leave them in the comments section of the blog.

All images are courtesy of each artist.