A profile of John Gurche

1 minute read

The Mail and Guardian has a nice article about the work of John Gurche, written by Sarah Wild: “The next best thing to a time machine”. Gurche is doing a guest lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand this week, and the article reviews his work and the importance of paleoartistic reconstruction to the science of paleontology:

“The world – worlds? – that science reveals is breathtaking, full of wonder. But the language of science is not accessible to many people. To convey that wonder, or even just to create an image that communicates what the scientific literature is saying, you need art,” he says, arguing that this is an example of science serving art. “Science can feel like a muse to the artist.”
But in this case, the muse is a collection of bones, painstakingly excavated from the ground over the course of years. In the coffee room in the Bernard Price Institute at Wits, the researchers have a puzzle on the table to help them to sharpen their visual abilities for piecing together ancient fossils.
When it comes to palaeoscience, these researchers have to put together a puzzle without knowing much of the picture in advance, and Gurche in effect has to colour it in.

I’ve seen skilled anatomists spend an awful lot of time with those jigsaw puzzles in the tea room.

The collaboration between artists and anatomists is so important to both fields of study. The best artists share with anatomists a skill of vision, developed over thousands of hours of close study, that is impossible to describe with words.

Gurche’s recent book, Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins, provides a deep perspective on the creation of his distinct visions of ancient human ancestors.