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Ingenious: Cornelia Hesse-Honegger

A life of science and art.

For someone who has spent decades drawing deformed insects, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger is remarkably normal: Warm, effusive, and quick…By Michael Segal

For someone who has spent decades drawing deformed insects, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger is remarkably normal: Warm, effusive, and quick to laugh, Hesse-Honegger combines the holism and intuition of an artist with the curiosity and obsession with detail of a scientist. Next to her abiding passion for environmental issues is an almost personal association with her subject, the insect.

This results in drawings that are so precise and perfectly shaded as to appear, at first, to be immaculately executed photographs. My appreciation for her work only grew when I discovered that each image is the result of a long process of tracing and retracing by hand what she observes through a microscope, eliminating errors with each iteration.

Which raises the question: How can deformations—essentially, errors—be discovered by a process which eliminates errors? For this too, Hesse-Honegger has a provocative and convincing answer.

Each video question plays at the top of the screen.


If Bugs Are Sentient, Should We Eat Them?

Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., is a restaurant specializing in insects. Stepping inside on a cool June evening in 2014, my friend Stephen Wood and I were immersed in the colors and smells of...READ MORE

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How did you become interested in scientific illustration?

How did you get interested in mutated insects?

Which insects do you paint?

What method do you follow in your collection and painting?

What adventures did you have during your insect collection?

What was your reaction to the Chernobyl disaster?

Why do you use painting instead of photography in your research?

How is painting more modern than photography?

Is painting less objective than photography?

Why has the scientific community moved away from painting and illustration?

How did scientists react to your scientific paintings?

How has the modern ubiquity of images changed how we see?

How has the role of the artist in society changed?

What school of art do you associate yourself with?

Who’s your favorite painter?

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