Welcome to our second interview in our new interview series! We have a-lot of great organizations and individuals coming forward wanting to participate!
Today we are graced by the presence of Paleo Artist John Bavaro.
John Bavaro, teaches illustration at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He’s published works that have appeared in BBC, BBC El Mundo, The Guardian, Current Biology, Science Source, Science Photo Library and at nutcrackerman.com.
- What has been your favorite hominid to work on?
I loved doing the archaic Homo sapiens from Jebel Irhoud which was just revealed last year.
Because first of all I had to construct the (skull imperfectly I might add), but what it revealed to me was incredible because I immediately saw a connection with the with the earliest Homo sapiens which were the first modern humans, the Australia Aboriginals. Maybe it’s just me wanting to read connections in faces, but I seriously saw a connection when I began to construct the face, the hair etc. between the ancient and modern. For me it spoke of the diversity of humanity. A lot of people respond to this image (Jebel Irhoud), I don’t know why but it seems to resonate with people on some level.
2. Which has been the most difficult?
Believe it or not Turkana Boy, because he was young but “almost human”. Obviously, humans lost body hair by then, contrary the historical descriptions and images of Homo erectus and how they been envisioned in the last half century. Like the famous image of the “progress of man”. You know the one that starts with a monkey and ends with a human with modern sapiens? Artists have, till recently, a pre-conception about what these species looked like and they tend to do them all into the same light pigmented skin tones, losing hair gradually, even though light-skinned people didn’t come about until very recently. And their gait didn’t change so radically like in the picture. I think generally with the knowledge base of today’s artists, we collectively have a “responsibility” to get it right.
At least that’s what I tell myself. I know that a lot Paleoanthropologists think even trying to depict them is folly, and maybe they have a point, but people are hard-wired to imagine a face with the bones. At least in the popular imagination
For me, with Turkana Boy, I took an informed guess at it. It’s was a challenge, but it’s also a burden to get it right because once I’ve published it then it’s out there. Turkana boy was eight years old. What was the did an eight-year-old Homo erectus look like? Is it the same as us or not? There’s various schools of thought about that and I studied hard to find out the truth about it and I decided on both the skin tones, the what he would have truly looked like, the hair etc. But I don’t know exactly.
3. What is something they all have in common?
Their hips, which is quite remarkable and that’s what sets as a part as proto-humans-the ability to walk upright. I think that people have misunderstood evolution “that we came from apes”, which is ignorant and understandable at the same time because we did have a common ancestor, one which was so far removed from apes. Think about it, orangutans are 16 million years removed from humans, chimps are 7 million. So we were much closer to Australopithecus’ then we are to chimps. I think that’s something that layman, (myself included) tend to forget. That’s why human evolutionary studies are so important yet sadly so neglected. I think it is fascinating and why we don’t care where we came from or have an issue with human evolution because of biblical myth. That is ignorant.
4. In short, what is your process?
I work in a program called Zbrush which I am self-taught. I am getting better but there’s a lot to learn and a lot goes into it especially in the hair. It’s funny that sometimes I have a template that I can stretch the forms around a pre-existing model. Like Lucy and “Little Foot”, but it still takes me a week or two if I really want to focus on the proper dimensions and research the climate, their milieu, research about currently scholarship. It’s not the same as for instance as John Gurche, Kennis and Kennis, Elisabeth Daynes whose works are all is incredible. Because they construct the forms muscle by muscle over the skull. It’s quite remarkable and humbling for me when I look at their work. What takes me a week do took them six months or year. That’s the gift and the curse of working digitally.
5. Can we get any hints to your next project?
I’m currently doing a diorama of two Neanderthals hunting Wooly Rhinos. That’s taking me a lot of time because I had research the position they took when they threw a spear, like the stretch and the strain of the muscles etc. Which is more dynamic than a simple standing pose. Also the focus that I wanted to put on it, such as the depth of field, the environment that I used which was Alaska from a picture that I took. I’m also a painter and the time that I spent on doing this piece I could’ve painted it just as quickly. But I’ve also had my dominant hand compromised by a stroke I suffered from a ruptured carotid artery. While I can draw quite well now using my left hand, painting for me is still a challenge. Luckily, even with my struggles with aphasia and my compromised hand skills, I still can do digital art quite well.
6. Where do you see the field in the next decade?
Wow, that’s difficult to say. I am a teacher first and an illustrator second. Although I teach at the college level so it’s not mutually exclusive (publish or perish) they say. But I am also teaching graphic novel so I’m currently working on a graphic novel at the same time. Too many projects! It’s funny that when a Paleoanthropologist reveals discovery, there’s suddenly a “buzz”. I try to respond to it responsibly and quickly to the best of my abilities. I am currently represented by Science Library. They send me a request and sometimes its up to people to pick it up and use it and sometimes they don’t. Even though I say, “Oh this one’s going to be great”. It’s almost random how the internet picks something up and runs with it one image that I thought was really going to takeoff didn’t, piece that I was hoping to go viral didn’t. Right now I’m just enjoying doing models and sharing it with people. About the field, it’s a remarkable time to live with new groundbreaking discoveries are revealed almost weekly, churning up the old order with discoveries that revealed maybe were older than we think or maybe Neanderthals did have DNA coming out of Africa or first humans actually migrated from Eurasia. This just is a sample of the current dialogue. For my part I just “bring the popcorn” and draw. Science is by definition positing a thesis and setting out to prove it or disprove it. I like to think that my work is the same way. Even if it’s wrong I’m still following the scientific method- exploring, observing, and answering questions.
Stay tuned for the next interview! If you’re interested in being interviewed, or know someone who is, have them contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will see what we can do!