Linking art and engineering

(Edmonton) Ask Tyler Heal about the differences between art and engineering and he’s likely to tell you there are more similarities.

“Creativity, ingenuity and novelty are things shared in the creation of anything—art or engineering. I don’t think the two are all that separable,” the third-year civil engineering student said.

To prove the point Heal and civil engineering graduate student Fraser Mah have just launched Spaces, an inaugural art show featuring works of art by engineering students, professors and professional engineers. (See a sampling of exhibit here.)

Running from March 19–30, Spaces is an eclectic and collection of visual art displayed gallery style, in the NREF and ETLC engineering buildings and is part of student celebrations of national Engineering and Geosciences Month. Paintings, sculpture, photography and modern art produced by engineers is on display in both buildings. A closing reception at the ETLC solarium March 29 will also feature performance art and music, from 4:30–7:30 p.m.

The caliber of the work is phenomenal, ranging in skill levels from hobbyists to professional artists.

“We’ve got a number of people who were practicing engineers who are now almost full-time artists,” said Heal. “We have had submissions from people who practice art as a hobby all the way up to people who have left the profession to practice art full time. It’s the full spectrum.”

Among the list of veteran artists is retired power engineer Roy Leadbeater, a full-time painter and sculptor.

“I’ve always believed that some artists are like physicists,” a statement alongside one of his abstract paintings in the exhibit reads. “They want to know the answers behind life and are fascinated with the unknown. I’m interested in asking what life and living is all about—asking questions of the invisible world and making that invisible world visible. I’ll never quit.”

Photos by environmental engineering researcher Christina Small helps viewers notice the details in nature that are often overlooked. “The environment influences life, as we know it, and there are many influencing factors leading to variability from one location to the other,” her statement reads. “I take this knowledge with me into my photography.”

Other works on display include an interactive crossword puzzle by Brandon Cathcart and Chis Linden, two mechanical engineering students. Crosswords, the two’s statement reads, “relies heavily on the foundation of engineering: the idea of problem-solving.”

The engineer’s desire to solve problems is evident in the fact that students can be seen stopping at the puzzle to solve a line or two.

For his part, Heal also has an artistic streak and finds a creative outlet in engineering. A saxophonist with the U of A Concert Band and a volunteer at Edmonton’s Yardbird Suite jazz club, he’s planning on melding his passion for art with his education and career.

“I really enjoy structural engineering and I would like to be an architect,” he said. “That is where a lot of the visual and creative art interest in me leads to. My way of melding the technology and creativity in engineering is going toward something like architecture.”