Profile: Paleo artist Viktor Deak

On the occasion of the Lucy exhibit going to New York, Donald McNeil, Jr., profiles artist and reconstructor Viktor Deak. Deak’s 78-foot mural of human evolution is part of the exhibit.

The article gives a nice short picture of Deak, what it takes to be trained as a paleo artist (hint: lots of anatomy), and his working environment. Deak’s website has photos of a lot of his work. I especially like the way McNeil’s article describes the artist-scientist interaction:

Picasso never had to explain that his mistresses werent actually cubic, but Mr. Deak has taken grief over as little as a flexed knee. One academic critic who saw his Lucy mural publicly boasted that he himself had the good fortune to examine Lucy when she was in Donald C. Johansons lab in Cleveland, and I can assure you that the anatomy of the lower back, hips, feet and knee and ankle joints all provide clear evidence that those early hominids stood just as erect as we do.
Mr. Deak replied on the same Web site that he knew perfectly well that Lucy could stand up, but he had depicted her crouching because she was pulling away from a predator the viewer. She was, he explained, protecting the baby in her arms and about to run off.

I just think that’s classic. The scientist (and you know you can guess who) wants an iconography. The specimen is its features, and the artistic representation should lay those features out for the viewer. It’s like having all the stigmata in the right places on a crucifix – the wounds tell the story. The artist, on the other hand, wants to express the individual beyond the features, a story to be conveyed by posture and gesture. It’s a conflict – with many stories to tell, only a few can make it into a museum display.