When Walter “Wally” Gilbert retired from Harvard University in 2001, the Nobel Prize winner and Biogen co-founder could have decided to rest on his laurels. Instead, Gilbert rekindled his childhood interest in photography (He had a dark room growing up!) and turned it into a new, artistic career with exhibitions across the globe.
Now, Gilbert’s large, eye-catching images add a distinct creative touch to the hallways of the Metro9 new condos for sale.
Let’s hear it from Gilbert himself:
Q. What attracted you to digital photography?
A. Around 2000, I discovered that I could make large images from a small digital camera. Using a 2-megapixel Sony, I started with 3-by-2-foot images, then moved to 6 by 4, and eventually to 8 by 12 in my first one-person show at MassArt. Large images carry an emotional impact, so I began to explore photography as an art form.
Q. How has your artwork evolved?
A. My work was originally of isolated fragments of the world — details that become almost abstract. The large format created patterns in the colors that made the viewer unclear whether they were photos or paintings. After doing a series of photographs of ballet dancers rehearsing (You find many of them in the book, Behind the Scenes at Boston Ballet), each year took on a different focus. I explored abstractions, geometric patterns, black and white, and intensely colored images, often on light boxes. In the last three years, I have been creating images from the superposition of two or more photographs, using intense colors and black outlines.
Q. Describe the artwork on display at the Metro9 new condos for sale.
A. Four Faces Rising is a black-and-white image. It’s one in a long series of image transformations that started when I turned the profile head of a ballet dancer into a silhouette, and then into a shaded line. Then, I superimposed hundreds of ever-smaller versions to make an image I called Vanishing Head. I spent a year playing with modifying and overlapping these images, coloring them, to produce a series of several hundred images, one of which you can view at Metro9.
Torn Building is a series of eight 3-by-10 images that are actually based on the building itself. Two pictures of the building are superimposed, the colors taken to full saturation, and the colors in the two layers allowed to interact to make new combinations. The computer can find edges, which I turned into black lines. You find them in the halls in front of the elevators.
Q. What are the main lessons you’ve learned about this new craft since you launched your artistic career?
A. My search is for a beautiful image. I am drawn to form and texture and, these days, to extremely saturated and unusual colors.
Q. In light of your distinguished career, what does the artistic path add to your life?
A. Both the science that I did, and the art I do now, involve the creative impulse to find/make new things/discoveries. The science is an effort to find (create) new truths about the world. The art is an effort to find (create) beauty.
Q. If you could name three highlights of your career, what would those be?
A. As far as my artistic career, I’ll pick my MassArt show in 2004; an installation at three locations in Poland (The Norblin Project: Images of Decay); and more recently a show in Seoul, South Korea, at the major university hospital.
For my science career: Discovery of gene control mechanisms, discovery of DNA sequencing (1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), and invention of the theory of Introns and Exons as an evolutionary force.
Q. How has Somerville evolved during your time in the area?
A.I have a studio in Brickbottom in Somerville. Back in 2004, we would have been the only open studios around when we threw our doors open the week before Thanksgiving. Now, there are many artists’ buildings, and there is a Somerville Open Studios the first week in May, with hundreds of participants. The completion of the Green Line extension will further add to the growth of the neighborhood.
Want to take a peek at Gilbert’s artwork and our new condos for sale? Schedule a tour of Metro9.