Glasgow artist unveils new paintings in tribute to famous scientist

Gregor Harvie <i>(Image: Chris Wallace Photography)</i>
Gregor Harvie (Image: Chris Wallace Photography)

A CITY university is preparing to unveil two dramatic paintings in honour of a prominent Glasgow scientist.

University of Glasgow quantum physicists commissioned artist Gregor Harvie to produce the works as part of the bicentenary celebrations marking the life and legacy of Lord Kelvin.

The eminent mathematical physicist and engineer, most famous for developing the Kelvin temperature scale, was professor of natural philosophy at the university for 53 years.

Glasgow Times: Scottish artist Gregor Harvie
Glasgow Times: Scottish artist Gregor Harvie

He was also interested in the structure of space, and proposed a specific shape (a doubly curved, truncated octahedron) as the most efficient structure that could fill space.

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Gregor, who divides his time between Glasgow and Millport and works as an artist in the city and on the isle of Cumbrae, has used computer modelling to construct thousands of ‘Kelvin cells’, creating an intricate lattice which is the basis of two huge and highly-patterned paintings representing the light and dark universe.

Glasgow Times: The Light Universe by Gregor Harvie
Glasgow Times: The Light Universe by Gregor Harvie

He explained: “Both paintings explore the idea that the universe is made up of patterns, of repeating forms, interacting with each other, and that the result of those interactions are the things we see and feel.”

Glasgow Times: The Dark Universe by Gregor Harvie
Glasgow Times: The Dark Universe by Gregor Harvie

The paintings will be unveiled by the university in its Advanced Research Centre on June 8, building up to the 200th anniversary of Kelvin’s birth on June 26.

Gregor worked with the university’s Quantum Theory Group (QTG) last summer, and gave talks to students and researchers about the relationship between art and physics.

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He said: “The collaboration has been an immense privilege. As an artist I’m fascinated by physics, and working with the QTG has allowed me to fully embrace the subject, developing ideas which I then explore in my work.

“It has given me the chance to experience physics from the inside and to engage with some of the sharpest scientific minds. I also try to contribute to the subject myself, by asking 'what if' questions and imagining new possibilities.”

He added: “There is more common ground between science and art than you might think. Both are a search for patterns, for things that are recognisable and repeatable, and ultimately, progress in either requires a leap of the imagination.”

Professor Stephen Barnett, head of the QTG, said: “Having Gregor around has been a joy for us.

"Most of the physicists that I know have an interest in something outside of science and many of us are interested in the arts.

"It's good for the students and it's good for the community to see there's more to intellectual life than sorting out experiments and equations.”

The unveiling of the project comes in the same month that Glasgow celebrates both art and science more widely.

The Glasgow Science Festival starts on June 6 and Glasgow International, the festival of contemporary art, starts on June 7.