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Marcos Isamat: The molecular biologist who draws nature in pencil

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The cartoonist Marcos Isamat remembers that when he was 18 years old his father asked him if he had already decided what profession he was going to study. Isamat (Barcelona, ​​1965) responded that he had enrolled in Fine Arts, because he wanted to be an artist. His response left his father bewildered, who blurted out: “I see you’re not clear.” He then proposed to the boy a trip to Scotland, to study science. Isamat saw in that proposal a ticket to freedom, leaving the family home, leaving his parents. “If you have to study Biology, you study Biology,” he thought. He thus studied at the University of Edinburgh and later obtained a doctorate in Molecular Genetics at the University of Cambridge, but he did not separate his art from his life. He became a molecular biologist who draws nature, an artist who captures in pencil the movement of the seas, the sensual meeting of branches that seem to dance, the simple beauty of leaves or the soft silhouette of the trees in a mall. . His work is the product of careful observation of natural environments. “What interests me is my memory of what I observed. My hand acts almost automatically,” says the artist, who is exhibiting for the first time in Mexico City.

Isamat inaugurated the exhibition on Wednesday night I simply draw at the Santa & Cole Gallery in the Mexican capital, where he brings together pieces from five of his collections, works full of lights and shadows, which capture the viewer who suddenly sees himself submerged in the waves of a dark sea, in the geometry beautiful drawing of trees that are reflected in the water or in the violent beauty of cattle ready to be branded. Everything is drawn in pencil, the inseparable tool of this creator who does not see himself as an artist. “I have never said that he is an artist, I am a cartoonist,” he says. “I really like to observe. Sometimes I take notes of things that catch my attention, plots that I see on the floor, for example, but my drawing is from a workshop. What interests me is the memory of what has been seen, of how to be able to draw a moving sea without seeing the sea, that it is the imagination that nourishes those images,” he explains.

‘Imaginary Landscape 2’, one of the works in the ‘Simply Drawing’ exhibition, on June 19.Aggi Garduño

His series of landscapes, in which trees are outlined in the distance or reflected on the water, are the result of that moment of abstraction, when in the confinement imposed by the covid-19 pandemic he had to imagine what those natural spaces banned by order of the health authorities, which forced confinement to avoid contagion. “Since I didn’t see them, I had to invent them,” he says, smiling. Isamat’s work has been exhibited in galleries in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Bologna, but also in fairs in France, Belgium and now in Mexico with Santa & Cole, the gallery chain that, along with works of art and books, exhibits creations of interior design, lighting and furniture and which also has a headquarters in New York, in addition to the main one in Barcelona. In the case of the Isamat exhibition, the gallery has used what it calls “neoseries”, very high quality reproductions, with an identical format to the original works, without devaluing the aesthetic quality of the works, but which allows them to be marketed at lower prices. accessible to collectors. “The neoseries reward creative talent. This way we can all share what we like,” they warn from the gallery. Isamat is satisfied with his relationship with this artistic project, which allows him to move his work to both shores of the Atlantic.

The cartoonist explains that he tries to differentiate the work of the artist from that of the scientist, although he is aware that this relationship generates attraction for the eternal human need to understand natural phenomena. He is the author of the books What’s wrong with my steak? (Grijalbo-Mondadori) and Why does my son look like his grandmother? (Debate), which he half-signs with his wife, Inés García-Albi. Works in which he promotes the dissemination of science. “I recognize that sometimes my vision is very much that of a molecular biologist, but I consider that they are two topics that are unrelated, although I cannot help but think when I see these meetings of branches, for example, what are the mechanisms that move them,” he explains. “There is one thing that is chance, which is perhaps what I like the most, but it does occur to me to think about plant genomes, about what are the mechanisms that make them rotate in one direction. From my point of view as a biologist, even as a molecular biologist, I am interested in how chance plays on these natural phenomena,” he adds.

Visitors observe the work 'From the pigsty' at the Santa & Cole Gallery.
Visitors observe the work ‘From the pigsty’ at the Santa & Cole Gallery.Aggi Garduño

Geneticist and cartoonist coexist in the day-to-day life of Isamat, who maintains his work in the field of scientific research, because he has dedicated half his life to science in prestigious British, French, American and Spanish laboratories. Drawing, he explains, has helped him in his scientific career to visualize, for example, the ways in which proteins interact. “He used it a lot as a resource to help him think,” says this creator who has been drawing since he was four years old. “Science and drawing are two things that I have done all my life, but they have separate departments, although I do both with dedication, seriously, which does not mean that I take myself very seriously,” he jokes. They go so hand in hand that the researcher, who thought that Biology had completely abandoned him, has become involved in a new scientific project related to medicine. “The advantage of all this is that I can get up in the morning and draw and then, in the afternoon, I go to talk to those who carry out clinical studies,” says Isamat with humor, who clarifies that in his world “sometimes for “For biologists I am an artist and for artists I am a biologist, although I do not make those differences.”

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