Petri Dish Portraits: Eco-Art That Will Literally Grow On You!

(Images via: DMSRA, UOregon, All For The Greater Good, Ghost Lightning, Al Dente, Art Info, Palo Alto Online, Art Net, Klari Reis)

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, regarded at the very top of the “greatest artists of all time” totem pole, used media as diverse as canvas, paper, stone and vast interior plaster surfaces to captivate the world with their entirely unique sense of color, composition, texture and style. With such prolific portfolios among them and a consistent willingness to explore unchartered artistic territory, you’d think that at very least, the latter two would have dabbled in the fine art of Petri dish portraiture. Alas, while we will never be treated to what their fully capable hands could have created with humble spheres of gelatinous agar, their spirits are clearly being channeled through the dynamically colorful paintings of internationally renowned San Francisco-based artist Klari Reis.

(Images via: Coolidge, Klari Reis, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Art Info, Moco Loco, Beverley Knowles, Petit Chou)

You’re probably wondering how one decides to embark on the fine art of Petri dish adornment when there are so many other equally quirky artistic mediums to explore, including trash, water, snow and ice, clouds and sky or even plastic drinking straws. Petri dishes don’t exactly conjure up visions of hearts, fluffy bunnies and cheerful daisies…they are, after all, the means by which biologists transfer microbe-laden samples for incubation, which is just a fancy way of saying that we give bacteria the thumbs up to multiply their little hearts out. This is the stuff that heebie-jeebies are made of, but Ms. Reis’ connection with Petri dishes goes well beyond her art and into the very fabric of her well-being.

(Images via: Wonder How To, Art Net, SJICA)


Saddled with an autoimmune condition called Crohn’s disease that has pretty much defined her daily ritual, she has been forced to consume vast quantities of drugs throughout her life (sometimes up to 20 pills daily) that have made her question how they actually affect her internal organs and overall well-being. Her art, named appropriately enough after the most sought-after pharmaceuticals, naturally emerged out of the intimate connection that she has to the medical world and instead of taking a woe is me attitude, she decided to create something stunningly beautiful and entirely unexpected out of that which is traditionally somewhat gag-worthy. While conventional Petri dishes generally contain creepy looking colonies of nasties that are representative of our bodies worst enemies, Reis’ totally inert creations employ reflective hand-tinted synthetic epoxy polymer paints applied directly on Petri dishes (as well as on aluminum and wood panels) that are emblematic of a dreamy, colorful fantasy world of her own making.

(Images via: Klari Reis)

The infinite Petri-like, kaleidoscopic scenes that result are her personal interpretations of legitimate molecular masses seen under the prying lens of a magnifying glass. Even more intriguing than her subject matter, personal background and artistic technique (which is believed to be an innovation that has never before been done in the art world) is that fact that Reis risks her own health with every new work since her chosen epoxy polymer medium is incredibly toxic. Although the material transitions into a completely safe final product releasing no volatile organic compounds (once it’s completely dry), she wisely sports a gas mask and full-body protective gear while engaging in her creative process. Klari Reis manages to shed a painterly light on bacterial scenes to such an expert degree that Julius Richard Petri himself would likely blush with absolute delight. Bacteria, we hardly knew ye!

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