“Genes and Chromosomes” exhibit explores biology

This article originally appeared in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Reprinted with permission.


Spartanburg artist Ralph Paquin is having a little fun with the building blocks of life when he playfully manipulates the gender-determining X and Y chromosomes in his exhibit on display at the Chapman Cultural Center.

“Genes and Chromosomes” is this established artist’s latest fascination with and attempt at visualizing microscopic elementals studied by scientists. It is a collection of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, all of which vividly illustrate Paquin’s interpretation of why men are men, women are women, and people are not trees.

The 25-piece exhibit is in the Artists’ Guild of Spartanburg Gallery, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m., through April 27. A reception will take place from 5-9 p.m April 18, during the city’s monthly ArtWalk. All viewings are free.

Viewers might not immediately identify Paquin’s symbolic and colorful images with genes and chromosomes, but there is definitely a sense of biology at work in the double-pronged shape that represents the male Y chromosome and the voluptuous folded fortune cookie that represents the female X chromosome. These two images appear in nearly every work, sometimes large, paired or alone, at other times en masse.

Genes and Slices on Orange“Genes and Slices on Orange”

They bend and shape-shift, not only in computer-manipulated wall hangings but as enormous glass-like sculptures. And if you begin to wonder whether these images might be somewhat symbolic of the human anatomy’s more private parts, the artist would not disagree.

A transplant from Massachusetts, Paquin lives in Spartanburg and is the department chairman and professor of art at Presbyterian College in Clinton. As an artist, he has worked and exhibited in China, Austria and throughout the United States. Though noted and accomplished in technical drawing, he has evolved beyond accurately reproducing images to creating his own images that relate to the core of life’s existence.

“From the moment of conception, our genes predetermine much of the basic condition of our lives, our future,” he said. “While this is not new knowledge, it remains fundamental. Genetic research is well under way, and the visual language of these genes and chromosomes is prime for creative interpretation.

“It’s important to me that these artworks appear primordial, humorous, erotic, intelligent and familiar because each piece maintains a relationship to all of the living organisms of our incredibly amazing planet.”

At times, Paquin’s abstract, subliminal and very modern work is profoundly simple, with only a few elements carefully arranged. Other works show a complexity and chaotic organization of elements, driven by innate forces. Nearly all of the work has been influenced by Asian concepts of composition and space. Even though the subject matter is serious science, Paquin uses humor and a pinch of mockery to make it accessible to even the least discerning eye.

For example, in the center of the gallery mounted high above the other works is “Black Oracle,” a large, glossy casted plastic sculpture made in 2012. Here the Y chromosome has morphed, creating a hollow head with a crown of transparent filaments. This image seems to watch over the rest, among them “Ambiguous Gene,” “Diva Code” and “Y Chromosome.” If you smirk at the implications of his art, Paquin feels as if he is accomplishing his artistic goal.

“Genes and Chromosomes” is part of a larger body of work that Paquin has worked on for the past six years.

All of the work is for sale. The 2-D compositions range from $4,500 to $6,800; the large sculptures start at $9,800 and go up to $37,500. Some tabletop sculptures sell for as little as $200.

His resume spans from the early 1980s to the present and includes awards, grants, publications, exhibits, lectures and workshops that span the globe, as well as a wide range of art-related topics.

Locally, his work has been judged “Best of Show” in 2010 by the Artists’ Guild, “Best of Show” in 2002 in the Spartanburg Outdoor Art Exhibit, and “Best of Sculpture Award” in 2000 in the Spartanburg County Outdoor Art Exhibit.

The Artists’ Guild of Spartanburg has a different art exhibit in its gallery at the Chapman Cultural Center every month. It is always free to the viewing public. For more information, call 542-ARTS (2787).

Steve Wong is the marketing director for The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg.