I was surprised to see some familiar faces on the front cover of my local freesheet newspaper recently. This paper, The Archer, is not a typical freesheet, but a community-produced monthly newspaper which has a good deal of local content, not just advertising. The photo on the front page of the February issue showed three local people: the well-known British actor David Jason, sandwiched between the slightly less well-known artists Denise Wyllie and Clare O’Hagan. All three had recently been out to the Monaco Film Festival to collect awards.
Their film First Darkness won two awards at Monaco – Best Art Short Film and Best Original Music Short Film. The film has a sombre subject:
It charts the progress of someone’s grief through the seasons, starting in winter with its sombre landscape and feelings. Gradually a lifting of the spirits comes as the seasons
move through spring to summer.
Denise and Clare are an interesting artistic partnership, going by the name Wyllie O Hagan. I first got to know them back in 2003 through some science-inspired works that they had produced. That year was the 50th anniversary of Crick and Watson’s discovery of the structure of DNA and there were various celebrations. Francis Crick’s old school, Mill Hill School, celebrated his association with the school by inviting their students to an event held at NIMR, which is where I work and is just down the road from the school. The school also purchased for their conference centre some prints from Wyllie O Hagan that took DNA as their theme. To mark the occasion further the 2003 issue of NIMR’s Mill Hill Essays included some of the Wyllie O Hagan images and, as editor of that august volume, I became involved in negotiating with Claire and Denise for permission to use their work.
Vision of Rosalind 2 © Wyllie O Hagan
The image shown above is my favourite from their series on Rosalind Franklin and DNA. It is a small section of their extraordinary installation Transformations in Science and Art – a 42 metre long cross-media, textile artwork that they developed following a residency with cancer researcher John Hartley. I love it because of its vibrant colours, and the way it straddles abstraction and representation. You will spot the double helix in there and also photo 51. A few years later NIMR hosted an exhibition of the Wyllie O Hagan Rosalind Franklin series, including a portrait of Rosalind Franklin, alongside some posters (that I had prepared) about some notable NIMR women scientists. The exhibition was very well-received by the NIMR scientific staff.
Rosalind Franklin: Discovering DNA’s structure © Wyllie O Hagan
Denise and Clare are two of the most delightful people you could hope to meet, so it has been a pleasure to meet up with them periodically. They have kindly invited me to one or two of their other showings, and I remember attending a St Patrick’s Day Film Festival that they organised in 2007. I’m not sure exactly when or why they started making short films but their YouTube channel dates from 2006. I particularly enjoyed the brief film The Wild Swans at Coole, a deft interweaving of poetry, printmaking, nature photography and music. The film and the print are both enchanting.
The Wild Swans at Coole © Wyllie O Hagan
I love the work of Wyllie O Hagan. It is always interesting, thought-provoking and attractive. I’m sure they would never think to describe any of their work as ‘sci-art’ (that term should be banned!) but some of their work does take its inspiration from science and that gives it an extra fascination for me. I love what they do and recommend you to take a look too. They have a website, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and a blog.