Paul Rodhouse: Science and Art


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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon




As a scientist, I have made regular visits to the Antarctic, investigating the effects of fishing and climate change on the fragile Southern Ocean ecosystem. Working in such an environment is a great privilege, and I am driven not only by the scientific challenges but also by the overwhelming aesthetic appeal of Antarctica and the surrounding ocean. These have been the source of my artistic inspiration.


For a painter, the Antarctic is both a wonderful gift and an enormous challenge. The grandeur of the ice, mountains and stormy seas, the delicate colours, the striking light effects and the splendour of the wildlife provide endless inspiration for artistic expression. The intellectual challenge is to render the unusual shapes, colours and light effects of the land, sea and ice convincingly and evocatively. The practical challenge is to do this in a cold, windy environment, which is at times very dry and at others rather wet.

When I am in the Antarctic my scientific work does not leave me time to produce finished artwork, especially as most of my subjects lend themselves to relatively large canvases. I also feel strongly that the limited time I have when my ‘day job’ is done, is much better employed ‘exploring’ the environment from an artistic perspective. I paint scenes, light effects and colours in my head, sketching, making notes and collecting reference images with a digital camera. Sometimes I paint small works in acrylic on scraps of canvas and these are always fresh and exciting to me when I get them home. I rarely exhibit these small pictures, but they are the starting point for larger, more considered, works.


Back in my studio in Cambridge further thought processes go on as I re-run the paintings I have made in my head and then refer to my sketches, notes and digital images. I never start working on a canvas until I have thought through in some detail how I am going to approach a painting. This is not to say that my work always ends as it was first conceived – there are many unexpected turns and happy accidents which I gladly seize upon and exploit in the pursuit of an original finished work.


I use artist’s quality paints, mostly acrylic and oils, on canvas or board, which I prime with gesso to give texture. I am particularly fascinated by light effects, and even though the Antarctic reveals in turn some of the most vivid and delicate atmospheric colours, I sometimes work in an almost monochromatic style. My paintings are generally sparse and rarely include figures as I usually want to capture the loneliness, emptiness and sheer isolation of the Antarctic. I explore the mystery of icebergs, the play of light on ice and water, and the way colours in the ice develop an almost fluorescent quality when the sky is overcast and grey.

© Professor Paul G.K. Rodhouse DSc 2008. Paul is Head of Biological Sciences Division at the British Antarctic Survey (Natural Environment Research Council). His artworks are exhibited during the Cambridge Open Studios annual event. Paul also accepts commissions and may be contacted at his home address: 60 Beechwood Avenue, Bottisham, Cambridge CB25 9BG. Tel: 01223 813785 E-mail:

Paul Rodhouse will be exhibiting a collection of his Antarctic paintings this summer in the gallery at 'Gilbert White's House and Garden and the Oates Collection' at Selborne in Hampshire. The exhibition will open with a private view and reception on the 14 July. The private view will follow a one day conference "90 Degrees South - A Virtual Voyage", at which Paul will be a guest speaker. For full details see our Events page.


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