Alison Turnbull (b. 1956, Bogotá; lives London) is an artist
with a long-standing interest in translating data and ordering
systems into pictorial abstractions. Many of her works use science
as primary reference, from astronomy to molecular biology; design
and architecture also serve as starting points. Through painting
and drawing Turnbull converts the charting of knowledge from one
language into another, thereby creating new aesthetic entities.
Inspired by evolutionary thinker Charles Darwin, Turnbull
discovered the manual Werner's Nomenclature of Colours, a
copy of which Darwin himself had taken on his voyage on The
Beagle. The book contains small, hand-painted swatches of
colour, each of which refers to objects from the mineral, vegetable
and animal kingdoms.
On the Islands in late 2009, Turnbull looked at butterflies and moths in the field and at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Back in London her research continued during a residency in the Entomology Department at the Natural History Museum. The artist sourced all 105 specimens of Galápagos butterflies in the museum's collections, such as the sulphur yellow (Phoebis sennae marcellina) and a blue butterfly (Leptodes parrhasioides) she had seen on Santa Cruz. She recorded their colour characteristics and made an inventory of all the data on the specimen labels. Turnbull's print Specimens (2012) translates the information gleaned from the individual butterflies and the taxonomic process into a pictorial system that reflects the arrangement of research specimens. A companion print Species (2012) plots data of moth species in the collection of John Lorne Campbell, a naturalist who lived on the Isle of Canna in Scotland. Both collections are from islands, one from the equatorial Pacific, one from an archipelago in the North Atlantic.