Books and Arts

Nature 452, 289 (20 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/452289a; Published online 19 March 2008

Exhibition: Water works

Nick Thomas1


ExhibitionWater works


After an injury left her temporarily unable to hold a paintbrush, British artist Pery Burge discovered a new way to produce art while recuperating. She began mixing inks in water and was inspired by the patterns that formed as the ink diffused. Now, the artist, who is based in Devon, UK, focuses on three-dimensional radial spreads — the outward movement of liquid from a central point — and uses time-lapse photography to create a permanent record of these colourful explosions of abstract beauty.

Burge mixes water and ink with droplets of gold paint, oil and the organic solvent xylene in a small, stainless-steel bowl. Complex shapes develop depending on the properties of the ink, such as flow rate and surface tension when the liquids first mix. "I think of myself as a catalyst for nature," says Burge. "I make careful choices about the ink and then watch what happens as the spread develops." She photographs the results in full sunlight and with a flash to highlight the colours. "My aim is to show that nature is the best artist."

Burge feels that the movement of ink through water has aesthetic and scientific aspects, with links to patterns that are commonly found in nature. Some images seem to be alive and organic, reminiscent of unicellular organisms; others look like hexagonal rock formations, crystalline structures or even cosmic phenomena. "Everyone reads them differently," says Burge. "People see figures, landscapes, faces. Your imaginative contribution completes the creative process."

Burge's work will be on show from 9–27 April at the National Society Summer Exhibition, Jersey Galleries, London. See

  1. Nick Thomas is associate professor of chemistry at Auburn University Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama 36124-4023, USA.


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