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The darkened halls of the Natural History Museum are places full of answers. We go there to seek context for our humanity through carefully constructed stories told by fossils, timelines, lingering artifacts and taxidermy. Some species come to life there–they become things of myth and legend. But some, probably most, never make it to the main halls. They are lost in obscurity, seemingly never to have lived–invisible ghosts of ancestors we never knew. 


Xan Peters’ paintings rescue some of these species from their taxidermic prisons.  His paintings captivate, engage and encourage questions and connections. Why Look? asks the viewer to examine Nature in an art gallery–why look at nature here?  What can we learn about our natural world when it comes to us as an artistic expression, free from the detachment of science?


Most of his subjects are extinct or in decline, captured in oil paintings that exude both drama and scientific detail. His technique is based in classical oil painting reminiscent of the Baroque Period, emphasizing dramatic lights and shadows, and deep, rich hues. There is a particular focus on idealized form in his work that glorifies these animals-there is no specter of death in these portraits-only glowing, exuberant life. 


Xan studied Paleontology at the University of Montana for three years before switching to Studio Art and Museum Studies as a major. It was here that the synergies between the worlds of art and science collided for him. He received his MFA from Tufts last year, finishing with an acclaimed thesis and painting exhibit, Trace Fossils. The Art Faculty at Tufts was so impressed with Xan’s abilities that upon graduation they hired him to teach painting


 Xan is part of a growing population of artists that have a strong interest in the sciences, especially biology and ecology, who are making art with a transdisciplinary approach and through a scientific lens. This is perhaps a result of the growing global awareness of the impending changes to our human experience and existence in the face of the climate crisis. Art focusing on extinction and diminishing species has taken on a new importance in activist and environmental movements, as well as developing a burgeoning presence in the art world. 


Xan’s aim is to merge the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Fine Art. He recognizes and respects both institutions’ drive to find sense in a complex and entropic world, to explain our human histories in a way that contextualizes our present. But, he also strives to dismantle myopic institutional storytelling and false hierarchies in both that oversimplify stories too vast to fully tell.

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