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Mud Paintings

Soil is alive.

After the invention of the microscope and just as we were discovering bacteria, a 19th century Ukrainian biologist named Sergei Winogradsky put soil in a glass column on the windowsill near his desk. He was determined to understand what was going on inside the soil. Over time a red splotch formed in the brown soil column; he put his pipette down into the red spot and looked under the microscope – the particles moved!

Bacteria paint.

Using Winogradsky’s technique, I make living color field paintings with microbes that photosynthesize pigment in unique soil samples. While individually invisible to the human eye, bacteria growing in the presence of light amass blocks of color as defined by chemical and physical conditions in each sample. As one species exhausts its preferred resources and dies out, another species thrives on the waste products of its predecessor. Transition in color indicates ecological succession of microfauna metabolizing a livelihood within a finite ecosystem.

Winogradsky Rothko, 2004

My first mud painting used mud from Beebe Lake and was named after the soil scientist Sergei Winogradky and the colorfield artist Mark Rothko (known for horizontal bands of color). This pairing was chosen because the Winogradsky column sets up horizontal ecozones, with a sulfur rich anaerobic bottom and a sulfur poor aerobic top, resulting in a gradient that selects for different bacteria; the different bacteria create different colors in different horizontal zones, not unlike a Rothko painting.