2018 Honorable Mention – Josiah Sherk

Advent of the Undiscovered

In the observable universe, there are estimated to be well over a trillion galaxies, each containing roughly 100 billion stars depending on its size. Galaxies are some of the largest structures in nature, many of them so large it can take over 30,000 years for light to move across them. To the unaided eye, they appear to be nothing but light haze on a telescope eyepiece, but with liberation from light pollution and long exposures, telescopes such as Hubble are able to take brilliantly detailed photographs of these structures that showcase their overwhelming beauty.

One of the greatest challenges of properly depicting them is capturing their ambiguity. Spiral galaxies are not well defined bodies, rather, they are representative of massive halos of dark matter with dense star forming regions that take the shape of spiral arms. Moreover, they are not perfectly shaped. Although the galaxy I have depicted here is not any specific galaxy we have observed, its attributes are based on galaxies we have observed. The structure of this galaxy is very similar to the Milky Way’s closest neighbor, Andromeda.

The techniques and composition of this painting are intended to make the finished piece look as similar to a Hubble Image as possible from a distance, while it may look less defined close up. Starting with a black gesso primed stretched canvas and acrylic paints, I applied three layers in five colors to this work: a background haze of blue and white and a galactic center of tinted yellow, dust lanes in burnt umber, and star forming regions in pink. The illusions I create are best realized through scumbling–using a dry paintbrush to add translucent color. In general, the galaxy is intended to appear blue, as spiral galaxies are younger than elliptical galaxies and are home to young blue stars. However, an observer may notice a large amount of red and brown colors in the painting–the brown regions are representative of dust clouds composed of heavy elements and compounds such as silicon and iron. The red and pink regions are representative of hydrogen gas clouds which are illuminated by radiation from nearby stars. The stars produced by these regions are blue, although I have depicted a number of older red stars near the outer edges of the visible galaxy.

I hope that when people view this piece it will encourage them to think more about what lies beyond our own existence. It is extremely humbling to know that such massive, beautiful, and distant objects exist, that beyond earth there is an almost infinite expanse of places like this waiting to be discovered as a spec in the mirrors of our telescopes.