Fruit flies are to Michele Banks what waterlilies were to Claude Monet: beauty worth capturing in all its subtle variations. While not a scientist herself, the D.C.-based artist spent time in a Paris laboratory learning all about drosophila, the humble fruit fly she described as the “workhorse” of the scientific world.
Due to being tiny, easy to manage and having a two-week life cycle, drosophila has been a star in biological research for more than a century. Fascinated by the role of fruit flies in countless discoveries about how and why genetic mutations occur, Banks was thrilled to gain a deeper understanding of the creatures.
“I looked at fruit flies under a microscope like a scientist would, and was even give an opportunity to dissect a few,” Banks said, adding that she used “tiny tools” to do so.
While surrounded by scientists researching the anatomy and life cycle of the insect, Banks said she was struck by the elegant structure of the wings and cells she viewed under the microscope. That exposure inspired Banks to create a series of ink paintings in the aptly named “Variations” show running through June 27 at the Artists & Makers Studios 1 on Parklawn Drive in Rockville.
“Science has inspired my art for the past seven years,” Banks said. “I backed into this somehow, not having a science background. There’s so much to learn about and see in the structures of microbes, viruses and neurons.”
Judith HeartSong, executive director of Artists & Makers, expects the exhibit will appeal to both art lovers and science geeks — a condition that is not mutually exclusive. “We live in a biotech corridor and as soon as you say drosophila, people working in the field know exactly what you’re talking about. This exhibit is a crossover that engages both art lovers and the science community,” she said.
Banks painted on yupo, a plastic paper that allows artists to manipulate the colors, to create the dozen or so paintings on display. The resulting pieces require the viewer to slow down and tease apart the images as near-photographic renderings of anatomy morph into flowing patterns.
“Michele’s work has a wonderful twist that is so appealing,” HeartSong said. “I’ve followed her work for years on social media and am delighted to have her work on display.”
HeartSong expected the June 1 opening night of the exhibit to draw an estimated 300 to 500 visitors to one of two galleries that offers local artists some 36,000 square feet of studio space. “We’re the best party in town on our first nights,” she said. “On top of viewing the exhibit, visitors can drop by all the adjacent galleries and get to know the work of our resident artists.”
Michele Banks’ “Variations” will be on view through June 27 at Artists & Makers Studio 1, 11810 Parklawn Drive, Rockville. The gallery, home to 66 resident artists whose work is also on view, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, and on Sundays and Mondays by chance or appointment. To learn more, go to www.artistsandmakersstudios.com or call 240-437-9573.