Robert Schimke embraces the life of an artist after spending decades as a scientist
Robert Schimke has ditched the pipettes and gels for paintbrushes and canvases. An emeritus professor from Stanford University’s department of biological sciences, Schimke’s scientific portfolio is tremendous.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, his laboratory made major contributions to at least four different areas of biology. Schimke served on boards for scientific journals and biotechnology companies and was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1988. But now he has left science behind to spend his time creating art. He also spends his days in a wheelchair.
A quadriplegic for 17 years with limited use of his arms and feet, Schimke has found a way to express movement through art. “I used to be rather physically active. Obviously I can’t do that anymore so I take it out on my paintings!” he says. “They are all moving. There’s nothing static about them.”
Schimke was ready to leave science even before the accident that left him mostly paralyzed. “I was 62 at that time and I was ready to retire, which is very different from most scientists. They don’t know what else to do. I really wanted to retire so that I could paint and garden,” says Schimke.
Schimke hasn’t let the accident dash his dreams of painting. These days, he melds his scientific methods with his artistic skills to get different kinds of paint to sweep, skirt, splotch or splatter over canvases. “I’m continually experimenting with new techniques. Many artists over time will paint more or less in the same genre that they’ve painted all the time,” he says. “I try all kinds of different things.”
Schimke is focused these days on understanding what happens to latex paints, which he purchases from Home Deport, as he drips and splashes them across canvases. “I’m trying to figure out how to make some interesting shapes by simply pouring dilute, light-colored paint on canvases that are painted black,” he says. “The other thing I have been doing very recently is to make relatively small canvases that have drips of undiluted paint that comes right out of the gallon can. That produces some striking three-dimensional patterns. They have a lot of different colors … I must say if you look at them, all you can do is smile.”