There’s a fine line between art and science for Jeff Karlin.
He’ll work on wood sculptures in his science classes at Lewiston High School. The reflections in his acrylic paintings represent refraction in salt water. His Celtic throne assemblage contains furs and horns acquired for his classroom.
“Art is my avenue to understanding science better,” said Karlin, whose work is on exhibit through June 2 at the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History in Lewiston.
The joining of humanities and sciences isn’t typical, the Lewiston native conceded, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be; observation is one of the tools scientists use in discovery. Karlin’s paintings allow him to explore and re-create observations within the boundaries of math and science.
“This is my interpretation of evidence-based research,” Karlin said.
A self-taught artist, he rarely works from a photo. Instead, he creates a composition in his mind, often based on his travels. The entire composition is researched and worked out before he sets paint to canvas.
“I don’t put paint down until I see the whole mathematic situation,” Karlin said.
One painting, for example, portrays a First Nations village on the western Canadian coast. A second painting, done afterwards, shows the same site 150 years later. In this later image, which he saw firsthand, all that remains is a mortuary pole and toppled totem. The altered perspective in the composition is based on researched mathematical relationships.
Other pieces of Karlin’s portray triangular composition — the “moving eye” of a mother seal or simply accurate representations of geological structures and plant life.
“Scientific perception is where all of the artistry comes from. That’s the genesis of it,” Karlin said.
Besides math and science, Karlin draws from his Irish heritage in the exhibit, with a Celtic throne and animal skulls painted with brightly colored Celtic designs. A carved totem and talking stick comment on cultural issues of First Nations.
The creative works are born not only of science but also energy.
“I don’t sleep much,” Karlin said. “I’m constantly in motion.”
In addition to creating art and teaching, Karlin also is a musician and spends summers on volcanoes and lava fields with NASA’s BASALT (Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains) research project. Because the environment mimics terrain on Mars, it helps the team understand how to do science on Mars. And yes, it’s dangerous.
“My study site is erupting right now,” said Karlin, referring to Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Musings,” art by Jeff Karlin
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, through June 2
WHERE: Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History,