Statement for Five Lamps

There’s a lot of talk about the intersection between art and science these days – since Dublin is City of Science 2012 – including our own Drawing Workshops in the Botanic Gardens. [Insert roar of approval here].

It has given me to think. And I have, in my turn, written this statement for the Five Lamps show (titled: Anything goes: Unpredictability in Science). You’ll see, if you persist, that it reads like a political manifesto, complete with eye-bulging, spittle-flying passion. As it turns out, this is how I feel about it, so I am just going to go with it and be hanged:

“[..] you will find your art infinitely easier—because more of a science, […]which will render your drawings not merely pieces of fine feeling—but embodied systems of beauty—with the stamp of truth on every line.” (John Ruskin)

In the tradition of thinkers from as long ago as the Renaissance, when art was the engine of science, I believe that art and science are now arbitrarily separated, when, in fact, they both are based on the same dynamic process of inquiry. In that scientific spirit, I am using this project as a means of testing the paradigmatic conventions that uphold this distinction. I contend that art offers a way of developing complicated understanding, of learning to “see” as nothing else will, of creating richer complexities in thinking. My aim is to move “away from certainty, toward an appreciation for pluralism and diversity, toward an acceptance of ambiguity and paradox, of complexity rather than simplicity” (Zohar).

With this as my basis, I have freedom to adopt a cross-disciplinary approach in “seeing” the glorious and intricate natural world. There exist some unhelpful assumptions about how scientists work, due in part to how it is presented in school, but the fact is that science is not a body of facts, it is a dynamic process of discovery, much like drawing itself. It seeks ambiguity and nuance, it too is a humbling process-orientated activity based on trial and error. That being so, this scientific approach of art can only bring us a renewed appreciation of the complexities of the natural world, its order, its beauty.

Einstein observed that: “the most astonishing thing about the universe is that it can be understood” – and that attempt to understand the subject is at the heart of both activities – art and science. These drawings therefore are at one level a search for a meaningful system in the universe – that search for meaning which is in itself one that defines the human condition. We are inherently seekers of meaning, we are scientists and explorers of existence, trying to unlock its secrets.

In these pencil, pen, and ink drawings I draw, label and delineate plant forms that present the Fibonacci-based numbering system, of which manifestations are found throughout nature – here in phyllotaxis, (the placement of leaves on a stem) spirals and the shape of a uncurling fern. (Phyllotaxis corresponds to Fibonacci’s sequence of numbers: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 (and so on) expressed as fractions, e.g. 1/1, 2/1, 3/2, and as decimals these are the golden ratio, also known as phi. )

In this way they make reference to scientific illustrations, as well as being documents of the dynamic process of drawing itself.


Debbie Jenkinson, always a proponent of drawing, which is central to her practice, uses her medium to explore and process the experience of existence. The human need to understand and search for meaning, which seems to her to be our defining characteristic, appears and reappears constantly as a theme in her work. Sometimes this takes the shape of narrative through animation, or comics, sometimes, as here, she inquires into the natural world through the drawn line, spending many hours documenting her neighbourhood in Dublin, filling her sketchbooks with a daily catalogue of form and line.