Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tyrant of the Salvage Yards

I'm not the first person to recognize the intimate relationship between art and paleontology. One of the great benefits of writing this blog has been meeting artists who inspire me with their craftsmanship, imagination, and dedication to the inherent beauty in biological forms. Even better than that is learning of the surging culture of young paleoartists hashing out their form on-line. Their ability and discipline is humbling and has spurred me on to make a career of visual science communication. So, when artist Andrew Chase emailed me about his sculpture of Tyrannosaurus rex, my mind was primed to be blown.

Here was an artist who recognized the integrity of the tyrant lizard's form. This is something I admire in the greatest paleoart, and it's the reason I harp on scientific accuracy (concerning which, I admit, I still have much to learn). The greater understanding paleontologists have given us - how dinosaurs moved, breathed and inhabited their lost worlds - has resulted in more resonant art.

I asked Andrew what drew him, as an artist, to this particular animal. "Tyrannosaurus has a purity of form that I find beautiful," he answered. "In my opinion, the T. rex is basically a mouth delivery device, everything else is subordinate to that. No goofy crests, sails, horns/protrusions for sexual display, for this baby it's all about the head. What's the tail for? To balance the head. Legs? Moving the head to the food. Brain? Overrated, keep it small and you can make the jaws bigger. Arms? Not necessary, lose 'em (well almost) and increase the size of the head. I think that singular dedication of purpose is maladaptive but really, really cool."

I told Andrew I was especially impressed that he had consulted with the University of Utah's Dr. Mark Loewen when conceiving his sculpture, and I knew that many readers would appreciate it, as well. He said, "I don't know why anybody doing this sort of project wouldn't consult with an expert. I'd be insane not to. There's literally no downside. I've made six animal sculptures so far and I've found that the closer I adhere to the animal's real physiology, the better the outcome. When I make a strong effort to be accurate, the pieces are better balanced, pose more easily, and are generally superior in every way to the one sculpture where I just eyeballed it."

Andrew's T. rex is six feet long, stands two feet at the hip, and weighs about forty pounds. It is fully articulated, as are his other animal sculptures, and he says that it's "made primarily out of recycled transmission parts, conduit, plumbing pipe and unidentifiable widgets found in industrial salvage yards."

The genesis of the sculpture was Andrew's yet-unpublished children's book, Timmy, a lonely robot tale - written and created before Wall-E - in which he says that "the Tyrannosaurus is a metal shredder, compactor and waste disposal unit. Everything and everyone will eventually pass through him. Because of this, the poor T. rex suffers the plight of undertakers everywhere and leads a somewhat lonely existence, even though he's witty, urbane, and would never intentionally eat a functioning machine."

Please head over to Andrew Chase's website to check out more of his art, including some stunning work from Timmy.


  1. Oh, wow! That is ultra cool! As an AMNH education volunteer on the 4th floor, I work in close proximity to our T. rex. This sculpture captures its power, personality and kinetic morphology brilliantly. It would be great if Andrew Chase could loan it to the Museum for a few months for display next to the fossil. Guaranteed to be a mega show-stopper.

  2. Simply beautiful. I look forward to the book!

    Pity he can't mass produce them!


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