George Boorujy (2002 MFA Illustration as Visual Essay) set out to be a marine biologist, took a detour, and emerged as an artist in high demand. He also came back to SVA, where he’s a popular teacher of animal anatomy in the BFA Fine Arts Department. Boorujy’s hyper-detailed drawings and paintings have ecological undercurrents, and typically feature animals. But these creatures are enigmatic—they seem to have human personalities and an unnerving tendency to gaze intensely at the viewer. You can gaze back at them at “We Tell Stories” through December 17 at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, or in solo exhibitions around New York City: “Passenger” at P.P.O.W. Gallery, through December 20; or “Taxonomy” at the Central Park Arsenal, closing November 13.
What flipped your switch from biology to art?
It all happened really organically. I went to school with the intention of studying marine biology, but contrary to those intentions, I just kept taking art classes. Before I realized it, I was closer to an art degree than a science degree, so I just made it official. There is really not such a huge divide between art and science. In both pursuits, one is using a methodology to investigate and explore a subject. It’s either the scientific method or an artistic practice. But both can be in search of a certain truth, however one defines that.
Your style is hyper-detailed. How do you research your subjects?
I look at as many images as I can and read whatever I can. If I’m doing a certain animal, I’ll see if there’s one in a zoo in the city. If there is, I’ll go and take my own reference photos. I also make sculptures for almost every piece and I work from those.
These animals look realistic, but there’s a human quality that makes them almost surreal. What do you suppose they are saying to the viewer?
There is a limit to how much I anthropomorphize an animal. But I do hope to make them seem like individuals rather than just stock representatives of their species. I am very interested in the interaction of the viewer and the image. I want there to be an exchange rather than a one-way observational relationship. That is why I am so interested in the eye contact.
Please tell us about the works you have in the “Taxonomy” collection.
This show is different than any I have had in the past because it encompasses my process. So in addition to the finished works that are typically shown, there are also sketches and sculptures, and some examples of illustrations I did for the Bronx Zoo and the New York City Park Department. I am also showing a project I’ve been doing where I put original drawings of open ocean birds in bottles, along with a questionnaire, and toss them into New York waterways. It’s been a great project, one that I’m not completely on top of updating unfortunately. But it is chronicled at nypelagic.com.
How did SVA influence you as a student? What’s the main thing you want your students to take away from their time at SVA?
I think my fellow students influenced me more than anything. For the two years of grad school you’re in the company of other artists pursuing seriously what you are pursuing. You’re all going about it differently, but you all are earnestly working and that support system is invaluable.
I would hope that my students would take away a good work ethic from SVA. There is no set path for an artist out of school, and that can frightening. But if you work hard and maintain the connections you make while in school, you greatly increase your chances of having a better, if not easier, path. It’s really easy to blow off art school. But if you’re doing it right, it is the hardest degree to pursue. And when it’s all said and done, it seems that hard work counts more than talent.