Human Evolution at the World Museum, Liverpool

In my 2017 wrap-up I cast an eye back over that year's adventures in palaeoart. This included (among other things) mention of two pieces commissioned by Dr Isabelle DeGroote at Liverpool John Moores University: a life-reconstruction of Homo erectus (Kanjera, Kenya) and a composite cave paining incorporating artwork from sites around the world (Lascaux, Altimira, etc). These were exhibition graphics to adorn the refurbished Human Evolution display in Liverpool's World Museum. In that post I optimistically mused that the projected opening date for the new exhibits would be early 2018 (ish).
Homo ergaster (erectus) at the Kanjera lakeside site, Kenya (around 2 mya). Copyright A V S Turner 2020

The newly refurbished Human Evolution exhibit at the World Museum

Well, last week (only a mere 18 months later than projected!) Mike and I had the pleasure of joining curators, contributors and the great and good from LJMU and the World Museum to celebrate the official reopening of the World Museum's Human Evolution exhibit for the public gaze! It was a huge honour and brilliant reward to be able to meet all those involved in the project, taking in some moving speeches from senior stakeholders from both the museum and the university.

Upon arrival, Mike provides some scale for the impressive Quetzelcoatlas cast in the main hall

The series of nifty open staircases and landings gave us a spectacular, ever-changing view of the Quetzelcoatlas cast as we made our way up to the exhibition space.

I've worked on a fair few exhibition graphics, I'm happy to say; but it's rare that I actually get to travel to the places where they are installed (often they are overseas or at short-term festivals, etc). So it was a thrill and a privilege to be able to go and see my artwork alongside exquisite specimens and incredible exhibition graphics by world-class palaeoartists!

I have to admit, my excitement upon arrival was also tinged with anxiety, I think purely for that reason. I daresay "imposter syndrome" probably has a hand in this, but I always fret that my digital art won't quite be up to scratch when printed out. Even though I was able to print off sections of both pieces at 1:1 scale to check the resolution, until you actually see large-format prints in situ, you never can be quite sure how they've turned out...

Of course, I knew that the exhibition designer would have alerted me had there been any serious issue with the files I had submitted, but still the nagging voice of self-doubt (and mental images of ever-so-slightly pixellated deinotheria) was there as we made our way through the corridor into the exhibition space.

Fortunately, I need not have worried: I'm delighted (and relieved!) to report that the level of detail in both the Homo erectus and Cave art installations was needlepoint accurate!

'Nariokotomi boy'; the superb Homo erectus specimen; looked suitably regal in his new/old home. My intention for this image had been to recreate Nariokotomi boy's tribe behind him as if he was still part of them - by posing the young male just behind and to the right looking directly at the specimen (but not acknowledging us) I aimed to create a tangential connection between the prehistoric world behind the glass and the modern world before it (He looks at the specimen, as the specimen looks at us and we look back).

BEFORE: 'Nariokotomi boy' (Homo erectus), before refurbishment

BEFORE: The corner of the exhibition space before the refurbishment.

AFTER: 'Nariokotomi boy' in his new home.

On the other side of the room, we were able to confirm that my digital scaling of our hand prints for the cave art installation was bang on the mark (another concern earlier on in the design process)!

Since the cave is a digital reconstruction, to create the hand prints Mike and I drew around our own hands and I then scanned the outlines into Photoshop and used a little maths to correctly scale them to my resized canvas (working at full-scale would have been impossible). In the end, I placed a few of them too high on the wall for us to reach, but in my defence; this was partly based on the photo reference used, which often showed hand prints placed excessively high on cave walls (I can only surmise that the artists sometimes perched on rock formations or on one another's shoulders?)

Mike tests my digital re-scaling of our hand prints

Unfortunately the cave art section now features a display case partially obscuring the portion with the cave lions; this is an exhibit that we hadn't been aware of though earlier in the planning phase, so the placement of the artwork in this instance couldn't be helped. Plus, the cabinet features artwork by the incredible Mauricio Anton, so I am more than happy to have his beautiful illustrations in front of my own!

Yes, that's the incredible Mauricio Anton's artwork in the 'Prehistoric Mammals' case!

The graphics were based primarily on paintings from Lascaux and Altimira sites, with some artistic flourishes.

After a chance to take in the displays and meet fellow contributors, curators and other guests, we enjoyed some inspiring speeches delivered by senior stakeholders from John Moores University and the World Museum.

The exhibits are now officially on public display and are set to be there for the foreseeable future. It is tremendously rewarding to know that I have been able to contribute a little something that I hope will enrich the experiences of visitors for a long time to come.

So, if you're ever in Liverpool and have a day to spare, I really do urge you to visit the World Museum. Not only do they boast an enormous collection of fascinating exhibits, but if you find your way up to the Human Evolution gallery, you can catch a glimpse of my artwork!

The artist with 'Nariokotomi boy'


My most grateful thanks to Dr Isabelle DeGroote for commissioning this work and for making it possible for me to be involved in this wonderful project.
Thanks also to Prof. Laura Bishop for providing invaluable expert support and consultation throughout the Kanjera palaeoenvironment reconstruction element of the project.
Extended thanks also to all the staff and stakeholders at the World Museum and LJMU for hosting such a wonderful evening and making the whole experience so much fun.


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