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Press release

Fabulous beast

Artworks by Mark Fairnington and Giles Revell

Free exhibition open to the public:
13 May – 12 September 2004
Media preview: 12 May 10.00–13.00

Fabulous Beasts reveals a world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the microscopic becomes gigantic and the mundane becomes amazing. Featuring paintings by Mark Fairnington and photographs by Giles Revell, alongside the Natural History Museum insect specimens that inspired them, Fabulous Beasts explores intense observation of the natural world.

Mark Fairnington creates photo-real paintings of bizarre and exotic insects from entomological collections, including the Natural History Museum’s own. Using high-definition electron microscopes, like those used by scientists, Fairnington captures the minute details of a specimen photographically, before interpreting and reinventing it in paint on huge canvasses. The result is a series of beautiful large-scale images – acutely observed yet subtly manipulated and rather unsettling.

Giles Revell explores the natural engineering of insects and their sculptural form using electron microscopy. Taking creatures that are familiar and apparently mundane, such as the ladybird and grasshopper, Revell’s work reveals them as incredible by magnifying their tiny features. Revell creates up to 500 scans at extremely high resolution to produce image sections that capture the wing, head or armour-plated shell of an insect. These sections are then merged to form immensely detailed, high-definition monochrome photographs, each up to eight feet in height.

Featuring new and existing works that highlight the fascinating physicality of insects, Fabulous Beasts shows the processes that scientists and artists share when examining a natural object. These images raise questions about the relationship between art and scientific illustration, and between representation and the original specimen. Both artists worked closely with experts in the Museum’s Department of Entomology and photographic unit to create the works featured in Fabulous Beasts. Mark Fairnington also researched specimens at the Oxford University Museum and at Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize, which is managed by the Natural History Museum. Despite the synergy between their work, this is the first time these artists have exhibited together.

Mark Fairnington’s solo exhibitions have included London venues such as the Mobile Home Gallery, Imperial War Museum and the Todd Gallery as well as galleries in Germany, Los Angeles, Holland and Belgium. His recent group shows include Transmission Portfolio (Domo Baal Gallery, London and Site Gallery, Sheffield), and The Human Zoo (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle) In 2004, Mark will have solo shows at the Alessandra Bonomo Gallery (Rome) and Imperial College.

Giles Revell trained as a geologist, before becoming an award-winning photographer, specialising in still life. His recent exhibitions include Insect Tectonics (Manchester Museum) and Seeing Things: Photographing Objects 1850–2001 (V&A).

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Notes for editors

  • Winner of the 2003 Visitor Attraction of the Year award, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries. The Museum is committed to encouraging public engagement with science. This has been greatly enhanced by the Darwin Centre, a major new initiative, which offers visitors unique access behind the scenes of the Museum. Phase One of the project opened to the public in 2002 and Phase Two is scheduled to open in 2008.
  • Through its diverse and innovative arts programme, the Natural History Museum aims to promote the understanding and enjoyment of the natural world, communicating the Museum’s science through various media. The Museum has exhibited work by different artists such as Peter Randall-Page, Olly & Suzi and Jan Fabre, and produced performances with companies such as Forkbeard Fantasy, Scarabeus Theatre and Faulty Optic.
  • A series of Darwin Centre Live events, talks and workshops will accompany this exhibition.
  • New book from the Natural History Museum: Close-up (May 2004) is a book of amazing images created by the scanning electron microscope (SEM). The authors Chris Jones and Alex Ball are Museum scientists who produce SEM pictures for research, education and the media. For full details of the book and to request review copies please contact Deborah Fajerman, Publishing Marketing Executive on 020 7942 5336 or email:


Admission: free
Venue: Jerwood Gallery, the Natural History Museum
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00–17.50,
Sunday 11.00–17.50
Public enquiries: 020 7942 5000 Monday – Friday.
020 7942 5011 Saturday & Sunday

If you would like to interview Mark Fairnington or Giles Revell, request images or further exhibition information, please contact:

Sarah Hoyle, Kristy Jones or Rebecca Chetley
Tel: 020 7942 5189/5654
Email: (not for publication)

Issued 15 January 2004