These paintings interpret the ocean chemistry research of Noah Germolus through a philosophical and artistic lens. He describes his research related to cellular metabolites as asking the question, “If I am a chemical, what is the life cycle of my molecules?”


My work stands on the threshold between abstraction and realism, therefore the paintings offer two perspectives at once. They represent what we think we see when we look at the ocean and also represent the abstract thought processes of scientific research. When we look at the ocean, we don’t actually see water, which is colorless and formless and shaped by external forces. What we see is a combination of mirrors that reflect the sky above and windows that let us see what is in the water. These patterns tell us that what we are looking at is water.


I paint shapes that suggest the patterns of reflections that we associate with the ocean. These patterns “float” above the “windows” into the sea. Looking through these windows and you will see some striking differences between the two paintings.


One painting interprets coastal surface water, which is one of Noah’s sample collection sites. The painting is a wild mixture of vibrant color, shapes and texture. There are “communities” of interdependent chemicals, mixtures of terrigenous and oceanic molecules, pharmaceuticals, pollutants, and algal toxins, greatly impacted by human activity.


The second painting interprets ocean surface water, which is another of Noah’s sample collection sites. This place turns out to be a nutritive desert for microorganisms. There are significantly fewer cells here, and they grow more slowly, and in particular the metabolites he is studying are very sparse. The desert like painting is dotted with a few handfuls of black, grey, and white marks, indicting the degradation products such as kynurenine that can be found in this harsh environment.


Although some of the forms I paint may relate to the physical appearance of water, my goal is not to recreate the visual images of the ocean. Instead, I want to paint a different kind of depth, and to create the sensation and the experience of wonder found in the exploration of the unseen chemistry within it. To blend imagination and reality, subconscious and conscious, and to reveal or provoke a new way of thinking. Joseph Campbell wrote that, “it is the function of art to carry us beyond speech to experience.” The experience of viewing art combines conscious and subconscious thought and impacts the quality of our perceptions, allowing for deeper and more nuanced understanding of life itself.

The overall project has been a joy to work on, because Noah and I are both inherently curious people who enjoy discovering new things. Our conversations have been wide-ranging and we share a deep appreciation of the many and diverse ways the human mind is driven to understand our universe through a drop of water.

Heather Stivison