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Tyson V Sharp is Professor of Cellular and Molecular Biology at the Queen Mary Barts Cancer Institute. In his room, OVERCROWDINGit explores this year’s theme of Climate through his experience as a cancer researcher and self-taught abstract artist, interested in overpopulation and viral infections. OVERCROWDING will be on display at the Royal Academy from today (June 21) until August 21 in Room VIII, a room containing specially selected prints by artist Grayson Perry.
The Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest open-submission exhibition of contemporary art which has been held every year without interruption since 1769. This year the Royal Academy received over 15,000 entries, including around 1,200 works in a range of media will be on display. This was Tyson’s first time submitting work to the Summer Exhibition and both of his submissions were on the shortlist, along with OVERCROWDING be selected to exhibit.
For the past 20 years, Tyson has worked his art alongside his scientific research. Much of his work as an artist is intimately linked to his research on viruses and cancer, grant applications and the scientific articles he writes. Often his frustrations with our lack of understanding of cancer biology, human health and the human condition motivate his work.
Tyson hopes his work will inspire people – from fellow researchers to members of the public – to engage with science through art. He said:
“I grew up with this perception that science and art are not compatible subjects – you can be good at one, but not the other. When I was in school, I couldn’t take art classes because science and art were scheduled at the same time. So I had to make a difficult choice.
For me, my art is now so intimately linked to my research. I started doodling, then these doodles became more complex as my scientific career took off. It has become part of my scientific process – it allows me to engage in my research on a different, and sometimes deeper level, and often helps me make sense of the chaos and complexity of cancer biology, research and university life. My art is a tool in my research, as well as a form of therapy for my well-being at work.
I now have hundreds of little doodles/art sketches, which I hope to one day turn into larger pieces, which would be wonderful to share with everyone. I hope my work will encourage others to engage with science through different media, and I hope it will change perceptions about the value of art in the scientific process, as some of the cancer research that we do at Queen Mary. ”
Following his success at the summer exhibition, Tyson hopes to find funding that will allow him to continue his work and use it as a vehicle to engage people in cancer research and science in general.
The History of OVERPOPULATION
When deciding to submit artwork for this year’s summer exhibition, Tyson picked up a small piece of paper from his desk on which he had previously jotted down four handwritten words related to his research. While reflecting on this year’s thematic note on Climate and the four words he had written, he realized that could be the start of a new work of art.
First, ‘777’ (Boeing 777) represents the jet industry and the issues around pollution, fuel consumption and people’s constant demands for more travel and how this is harming our climate. Second, the two phrases “CMV” (cytomegalovirus); and the “virus” are highly relevant to the pandemic and how overcrowding and travel have been integral to the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world. Finally, ’29e of June” was a date he had written down but could not remember the original reason for. However, realizing that the work would be exhibited in June, Tyson thought and hoped that this work was for the exhibition. With these insights and thoughts, Tyson set about creating visual representations to restrain and compartmentalize both the population and the virus outbreak with geometric shapes His need to create order where chaos reigns in a context of overcrowding and viral infections, clashes with the azure blues and minimal blacks of the work.