This exhibit draws on field notes and watercolors James Prosek made in the former Dutch colony of Suriname in late March and April 2010, as a member of a biological research and collecting expedition sponsored by Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. Part of the body of work consists of paintings that Prosek made in the field, between duties of collecting and skinning birds, oftentimes at night by headlamp. A separate body of work was made in his Connecticut studio, based on sketches, journals and photographs. In these works, the subjects are intentionally distorted (referencing anamorphic perspective) to show that whenever humans gaze at or try to define or represent nature it is inevitably a distortion. Actual specimens collected on the expedition are also on display, on loan from the Peabody.
Prosek is concerned in both his painting and writing with themes of how and why we name and order the natural world. The collecting site in central Suriname, a previously unexplored and unnamed mountain area in one of the largest untouched tropical forests of the world, was the ideal test site for the artist’s inquiry.
In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of Whitney Humanities Center programming, the exhibition has been planned to complement this year’s undergraduate Shulman Seminar on the evolution of beauty taught by biologist Richard Prum and philosopher Jonathan Gilmore.
Artist, writer, and naturalist James Prosek published his first book, Trout: An Illustrated History, featuring seventy of his watercolor paintings of the trout of North America, when he was a junior at Yale. He has shown his work in galleries and museums throughout the United States and abroad. His first solo museum show was at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in 2008; upcoming shows are planned at the Contemporary Art Museum in Monaco and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Prosek has written for the New York Times and National Geographic and won a Peabody Award in 2003 for his documentary about traveling through England in the footsteps of Izaak Walton, the seventeenth-century author of The Compleat Angler. Having already published ten books, Prosek is currently working on a collection of paintings of Atlantic fishes for Rizzoli as well as an interdisciplinary project about naming nature. Prosek is a curatorial affiliate of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, and a member of the board of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.