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One Picture

Artist: Rob Kesseler
Subject: Sweet basil
Instrument: Hitachi S-4700 scanning electron microscope
From: Fruit: Edible, Inedible, Incredible, by Wolfgang Stuppy and Rob Kesseler. Papadakis Publisher, London. © Stuppy/Kesseler/Papadakis. (For more information, click here.)


Fruit for Thought
Home in. No, that’s not a dragonfly’s face but part of the familiar culinary herb sweet basil. These four morsels, nestled in a hairy haven, comprise the plant’s fruit. Referred to as nutlets, each quadrant bears hope for future generations: a seed.

Artist Rob Kesseler created the image for Fruit, his third collaboration with Wolfgang Stuppy, a seed morphologist with the Millennium Seed Bank Project at London’s Kew Gardens, who wrote the book’s detailed text. The duo selected specimens that were visually appealing and best represented fruit’s staggering diversity (there are 300,000 to 500,000 angiosperms, or flowering, fruit-bearing species). After preparing them on slides, Kesseler used an electron microscope to capture black-and-white partial images. He later stitched them into single digital composites (13 make up the sweet basil image) and painstakingly colored each, pixel by pixel, using Photoshop. Kesseler adds that cleaning up the images’ background and adjusting their contrast are also important stages of his process. For chromatic inspiration, he relied on the original plant and his artist’s intuition. His palettes highlight each specimen’s structural or functional traits while also suggesting three-dimensionality. “As an artist, one of my jobs is to lead people to things which maybe they’ve seen before but have not really looked at,” says Kesseler. With the sweet basil, the viewer’s eye scans the muted sage bulbous portion—an enlarged leaf belonging to a structure called the calyx—then gravitates to the light-green cup formed by four remaining calyx leaves, to ultimately rest on the nutlets within.

The team’s work is as much a testament to nature’s intricacies as it is to Kesseler and Stuppy’s thriving interdisciplinary relationship. “It’s very difficult to get people close to plants”—a tough reality facing conservationists, says Stuppy. “[Kesseler’s] art is one very good way to get people’s attention.”—Julie Leibach

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