Odile Crick

Kindra Crick’s mad pursuit

Following in the footprints of her famous grandparents, the Portland artist creates an evocation of one of the prime building blocks of life

Tall and twisting, it spirals elegantly upward in dual shades of blue and black. One half is like sky, one half like a curving chalkboard. Each strand is painted with precise patterns, like molecular clusters or mathematical equations. The two sides are intertwined, distinct yet united. Each is incomplete without the other.

Called What Mad Pursuit, the sculpture, by Portland artist Kindra Crick, is an interpretation of one of the prime building blocks of life, the double helix of the DNA molecule. The discovery of the double helix, in 1953, was crucial to revealing how information is stored and passed on via a genetic code. That, in turn, led to the beginnings of molecular biology and genetic engineering, and to breakthrough advances in medical research on cancer and other diseases.

Kindra Crick with "What Mad Pursuit" in her Portland studio. Photo courtesy of artist.

Kindra Crick with “What Mad Pursuit” in her Portland studio. Photo: Alex Crick

On Tuesday, October 13, the gavel went down on What Mad Pursuit at Christie’s London, sold to an anonymous bidder for $26,000. It was one of a group of sculptures inspired by the double helix that were offered at auction to benefit the new Francis Crick Institute, a hugely ambitious, billion-dollar-plus biomedical research center set to open next year in London. The auction, which included works by many British artists and such internationally known creators as the Chinese superstar Ai Wei Wei and the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, raised more than $500,000.

“There were twenty-one artists and twenty-two pieces, because Ai Wei Wei made two,” Crick said. “My personal favorite was Benjamin Shine. He had read that my grandfather had described the double helix as a twisted ladder,” so that’s what he made.

Odile Crick's original drawing of the double helix, as printed in the journal Nature in 1953.

Odile Crick’s original drawing of the double helix, as printed in the journal Nature in 1953.

Crick is, indeed, the granddaughter of Francis Crick, and if you’ve read much at all about the great scientific and technological discoveries of the twentieth century, you know his name, or at least something about the work he did. He shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for their seminal work on DNA. Their work was based partly on research by Rosalind Franklin, whose death four years before the Nobel accolade kept her from being named as a co-recipient. Kindra is also the granddaughter of the artist Odile Crick, who painted warm, closely observed, very human nudes and unguarded portraits of women. It was Odile, Francis’s wife, who drew the first depiction of the double helix, a kind of curved stairwell that illustrated Crick and Watson’s groundbreaking paper published in 1953 in the journal Nature. Odile’s illustration, oft repeated in textbooks and popular histories, has taken on a fame of its own.

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Kindra Crick is her own double helix, two-sided and complementary, scientific and artistic. She earned a degree in molecular biology from Princeton, and a certificate in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her art vigorously embraces scientific ideas. “In my artwork I’m interested in the study of the brain,” she says. It’s an approach that encourages large questions, the sort that theoretical scientists ask themselves: “What exactly is the shape of a memory? What does it look like? How is it formed?” What happens, to take it a step beyond, when you evoke a memory? The very act of recalling a memory, as Crick points out, leaves it subject to being changed.

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