Arts Illustrated

September 19, 2020

Art with Chemistry

Artist Yogendra Joshi speaks to us about his photographic vision that alternates between the miniscule and the mega; picking out patterns both microscopic and larger than life

Team AI

Electric colours, freewheeling patterns and an ethereal detachment define Yogendra Joshi’s Art through Beautiful Chemistry series. Using combinations of chemicals like tears, citric acid, amino acids and more, Joshi’s camera doubles as a storytelling microscope and reveals the hidden patterns in everyday objects. His lens captures the most ordinary of subjects – ants, insects, water drops, the sky – and turns the notion of ‘ordinary’ on its head.

Joshi’s photographic vision alternates between the miniscule and the mega; picking out patterns both microscopic and larger than life. The set of photographs that capture the night sky, overwhelm the beholder with such scale and splendour that any sense of authority and power is stripped. The sky – the truest reminder of our puny sizes – infuses magic in its staggering expanse in Joshi’s lens.

(L) Dextrin + Glycine. (R) Beta-Alanine + L-Glutamine

However, over 10 years’ worth of his photography primarily consists of the world’s tiny things. Sharp focus and tantalising details separate his works from the plane of grounded reality and catapult them into the zoomed-in world of individual particles and smaller infinities. At this level, every crease, every wrinkle becomes a terrain of its own – mountains and chasms that could fit in the palm of your hand. Insects become complex beings of highly specific body nuances. Recently, he began to train this focus on magnified chemicals that are melted, or microwaved, or mixed with water or alcohol.

In a short interview, Joshi opens up about the indescribable experience that involves extreme focus and extreme zoom.

Excerpts from the Interview

Abstract art often finds inspiration in traditional mediums and subjects. What prompted you to turn to science?

I do not consider knowledge in compartments and try to gather anything that I find interesting. Though I come from a commerce background, I’ve found science thrilling. Over the years I have experimented scientifically to create art, like high-speed water drop collision photography or frozen flower series or abstracts through a mixture of milk-soap-colours. Chemicals were a natural progression once I realised there was art hidden in them.

(L) Draconic Acid + Callus Remover. (R)  Malic Acid

How small are the chemical particles?

The size varies from 0.2 millimetres to 2 millimetres depending on the magnification. You can fit 20 to 100 such pieces on a fingernail. I have prepared a small setup where even without a microscope you can see it using a smartphone magnifier adapter.

(L) Sulphur + Hydroquinone. (R) Sugar + Glycine

Although most scientific experiments start off with a particular goal, a vision in mind, unpredictability plays a huge role in how the process turns out. Include art in the mix and it opens the doors to, literally, endless possibilities. How do you fight the curiosity of the next material, the next chemical or the next reaction?  How do you decide when a work is complete?

As you rightly said, it’s the curiosity that drives experiments and there is nothing like ‘now work is complete’. It is more like reaching milestones and moving forward to the next one. I keep experimenting. For example, Ascorbic Acid creates crystals and Salicylic Acid creates lines. When we mix the two, it gives an effect of trees and vines growing, with leaves and flowers blooming over them. Glycine produces beautiful structures on its own. But mix it with Urea or Citric Acid (Lemon Juice), and the combination is nothing like the ones from the original chemicals. Now I have a good handle on which chemicals will create mountains, which ones would turn into flowers, trees, bamboo, abstract colour patches, or even ancient scripts. I hope to discover more so I can make my process slightly more predictable.


What were some of the challenges you faced given the peculiar nature of your subjects?

First is getting the material. Some chemicals are expensive and come in large quantities while I just need 1-2 grams to create my solutions. You have to be resourceful and need to invest if you want to move beyond usual household chemicals. Next is magnification, which makes getting things in focus a nightmare. I tried creating my own rig through photography adapters but that made the process hard. Then I moved to a microscope, but focusing remained difficult at that magnification. Furthermore, some crystals grow in seconds and some take hours. I managed to devise a new method that I call ‘incremental partial crystallisation’ through which I can now take multiple videos on the same slide to combine them later as video art. There are far too many challenges but overcoming them gives me immense satisfaction.

Yogendra Joshi

What are your future plans? How has ‘Art through Beautiful Chemistry’ broadened your expertise and influenced your future interests?

I want to create awareness by showing the beauty of chemicals through a microscope. I would also love to collaborate with other recognised artists with chemical art. The ultimate aim is to see this art decorating living rooms and office receptions. I do sell art installations created using these; however, for now the demand is mostly in Europe and the US. I hope to generate some awareness and interest here as well. It would be great to collaborate with schools or colleges if only to encourage interest in the sciences. I am coordinating with a few reputed science organisations. It remains to be seen if this can be a tool in education. Lastly, I would love to publish a book to catalogue the beauty through chemicals.


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