Last Impression: Signs as symbols of identity

By Sonia Yooshing 

The overall design presents historical and modern people moving across a landscape in response to conflict, climate change, and urbanization, and remixes imagery from classical paintings alongside iconography from Great War postcards, Roman coins, and the Bayeux Tapestry.

The overall design presents historical and modern people moving across a landscape in response to conflict, climate change, and urbanization, and remixes imagery from classical paintings alongside iconography from Great War postcards, Roman coins, and the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History commissioned Ian Kirkpatrick, a Canadian contemporary artist and graphic designer who moved to England in 2007, to create modern art that coincided with the museum’s seven-month-long exhibition entitled ‘Settlers: Genetics, geography, and the peopling of Britain.’

The pieces were bolted together horizontally and once they aligned, they were fastened to the wood.

The pieces were bolted together horizontally and once they aligned, they were fastened to the wood.

Kirkpatrick’s bold style—inspired by the history of art and design, from ancient cave art and Greek amphorae to graffiti and computer graphics—served as a sharp contrast to the Victorian neo-Gothic architectural design of the 150-year-old museum.

After spending nearly four months researching and planning the subject matter, the artist decided to use a sturdy-yet-lightweight Dibond aluminum composite graphic display board to create a series of six panels, which were installed in conjunction with the exhibition. The panels—entitled: ‘Where Do We Come From?,’ ‘What Are We?,’ and ‘Where Are We Going?’—explored the social and natural causes behind human migration, both in ancient and modern times. He then used an iPad Pro pencil to sketch the imagery and redrew the artwork in Adobe Illustrator, creating clean graphics and adding vibrant colours as he moved along.

Four large panels, measuring approximately 3600 x 1500 mm (142 x 59 in.), were installed as a panoramic scene within the museum’s first-floor stone archways and columns. Two smaller panels, nearly 2400 x 860 mm (95 x 34 in.) in size, were fitted within the arches near the exhibition.

Kirkpatrick rearranged the designs to ensure the artwork fit into the arch shapes. The images were then sent to the U.K.-based signage printer Dock Street Signs, which used a Durst Rho 1312 flatbed printer and ultraviolet (UV) inks to digitally print the artwork on 3-mm (0.1-in.) white Dibond panels. Once printed, each of the panels arrived as two printed halves that were later seamed together for installation—
a process that posed its own set of unique challenges as the historic building is ‘listed’ and its stonework must be preserved intact.

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To avoid risking damage to the masonry arches by drilling or gluing, the museum’s building manager, Peter Johnson, devised hand-cut plywood pieces to sit tightly on the capitals and support the artwork—without allowing the panels to rest on the stone.

First, the pieces were bolted together horizontally and once they aligned, they were fastened to the wood. Adhesive tape was used between the panel halves to ensure they were flush. The installation process took more than a day and required strong scaffolding.

Kirkpatrick described the project as “a lot of work,” but an overall gratifying experience.

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