Reader in Painting
Mark Fairnington is a Reader in Painting at Wimbledon College and his practice explores the lineage of animal and plant painting and its relation to the history of human understanding of the natural world. It focuses on the image of natural history specimens in collections, storage and display. Collaborative research projects with scientists have included Membracidae, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Fairnington and Dr George McGavin travelled to the Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize to study treehoppers and this insect’s use of mimetic camouflage as a survival mechanism. A major exhibition of Fairnington’s work, Fabulous Beasts, was mounted at the Natural History Museum, London in 2004. Birds We Cannot See, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, involved working with scientists in the NHM Department of Zoology to study and record specimens of Birds of Paradise from the skins collection and in historical and contemporary displays.
Fairnington’s research is founded on painting as its primary method of research. It examines the idea that the cultural meaning of the images generated by different disciplines can be determined by narratives that lie outside the field. These are diverse narratives, some of which emerge and are explored during the making of a painting, where description, its attention to detail, gained through studied and intense observation, can become a platform for speculation and storytelling. Two recent series of works are The Bulls and Flora. The Bulls are life-sized paintings of prize-winning stock bulls that open up connections between the history of animal portraiture, the economy of selective livestock breeding and how this determines physical characteristics of the animals. Flora is a series of paintings that imagine new hybrid plants, referencing genetic engineering, the history of flower painting and botanical illustration.
Selected Outputs and Achievements
Selected solo exhibitions
- 2011 Flora, Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin.
- 2010 Bull Market, Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, Suffolk.
- 2009 Private Collection, Galerie Peter Zimmermann, Mannheim.
- 2008 Galerie Peter Zimmermann, Mannheim.
- 2007 Dynasty, Art Agents, Hamburg.
Selected group exhibitions
- 2010 Blood Tears Faith Doubt, Courtauld Gallery, The Courtauld Institute of Art.
- 2010 Profusion, Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.
- 2009 The Artist’s Studio, Compton Verney, touring to the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich.
- 2009 A Duck for Mr Darwin, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.
- 2008 War and Medicine, Wellcome Trust, London.
- 2008 Darwin’s Canopy, Natural History Museum.
- 2007 Bird Watching, curated by Tanya Rumpff, the Fish Market, Haarlem.
- 2007 Bloedmoo, The Historic Museum, Rotterdam.
- 2007 Bloody Beautiful, Gallery Ron Mandos, Rotterdam.
Selected books and editions
- 2009 Flora, text by Adrian Rifkin, Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin.
- 2009 The Artist’s Studio, Giles Waterfield, G. (ed.), Hogarth Arts and Compton Verney.
- 2009 A Duck for Mr Darwin, Evolutionary Thinking and the Struggle to Exist, BALTIC.
- 2008 Arkive City, University of Ulster, Belfast.
- 2008 Bloedmooi/ Bloody Beautiful, Historical Museum, Rotterdam.
- 2006 Experience and Experiment, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.