Artist Spotlight: STEM artist reimagines alien world

Christian Connors is known to tell outrageous stories. He rushes into the dining hall, fashionably late and in a burgundy Hawaiian shirt with a black sketchbook in hand, and dives into a story about how he “broke” his kidneys jumping off an abandoned bus in the woods one day. 

“On the sixth day after I jumped off the bus, which I guess is the day God rested, I finally realized I had to pee,” Connors said. “I open up the can and I go to squeeze the lemon, but the lemon didn’t come out.” 

What came out was a cup and half of blood, like something out of a horror movie, he said. 

Connors is no stranger to horror. Just a few page flips into his sketchbook takes you to unimaginable alien worlds. They are crawling with strange creatures twisted, mangled and pieced together, inspired by the living world all around us: insects, worms and leeches to be exact. As a freshman biology major, considering an art minor, Connors has a vision. He wants to teach people about the incredible world of creepy, crawly animals through fantastical comics depicting life reimagined with all the strange behaviors and structures biologists have spent hundreds of years observing and explaining.  

At heart, Connors is a storyteller. The bus incident is among many stories he shares with others. Another is an injury he incurred after crashing his ATV. His favorite story, involving a misunderstanding on the Jewishness of a hat he wore during middle school, ended up having a larger impact than he could have realized.

In the eighth grade, Connors’ teacher told him to take off the hat, but Connors fought back saying he was wearing it because he was Jewish. The teacher wasn’t convinced. 

Connors, in fact, isn’t Jewish, he admitted, but it didn’t take long until he told his teacher it was Yom Kippur, the only Jewish holiday of which he could think. Coincidently, the day happened to be Yom Kippur, but Connors’ teacher didn’t care, taking him straight to the principle's office for not taking the hat off. 

“Mr. Andy wasn’t Jewish but he was Jewish enough to know it was Yom Kippur,” Connors said. “My mom, who I love dearly now and till the day I die, was called and asked if her son was actually Jewish and she replied ‘I don’t know. He might be' and hung up the phone.” 

Later that day, Connors’ mom came to pick him up from school. 

"I walked home and said ‘Mom, I’m never going back to school’ and she said ‘ok,’” Connors said. “I didn’t go back to school for a while and my mom started home-schooling me, but it was really just me sitting at home, browsing the internet and walking dogs.” 

At home, Connors also developed an obsession for drawing, he said, which carried into college. He named his black sketchbook the “Chem Book” because he likes to draw during his chemistry lectures. 

He turns to a page. 

“This is a man with a stick and this is some kind of bug-eyed alien who looks like a shark,” he said.

He flips to another page. 

“You have a stoic backpacker smoking a cigarette and interviewing a part-squirrel part spider alien about, obviously, time travel,” he said.

This one is more detailed, he admits, adding that the title of the piece is “Interview” and represents a mix of his favorite things. 

He continues flipping and explains that his book of drawings is full of themes and motifs that are very bizarre. He likes to play with biology and surrealism, he said. 

“If you go from page to page, you can almost imagine a narrative,” he continued. "If you look really hard, you will find it.” 

Among these narratives is a man with red sunglasses appearing in multiple drawings throughout the book. There are pages based on Cthulhu, an H. P. Lovecraft pulp fiction creature of which Connors is especially fond. 

“A lot of H. P. Lovecraft’s stuff is described as clouds of gas. I really like the idea of organic objects explaining ideas or invoking emotion,” Connors said. 

He also draws inspiration from the bizarre, organic, hyper-sexualized, gut-wrenching and disgusting works of H. R. Giger, a Swiss surrealist painter who is famous for designing the alien from the 1979 movie “Alien.” 

For Connors, the most important art for scientists isn’t medical or nature illustrations or "3D diagrams of cat intestines.” Instead, it’s comic books, sci-fi movies, and "crazy fantasy" novels. Any kind of storytelling that requires people to imagine an unimaginable world is critical in getting kids interested in science at an early age. 

Connors has always loved ecology and evolutionary biology. However as a kid, it was doodling that really got him into the field. 

“A lot of my art is just critters that are really inspired by nature,” Connors said. 

Currently, Connors is working on a project to fully illustrate a book about an alien planet. He said he’s doing it just for himself and wants to incorporate science from insects, worms, leeches and organisms that people really don’t know about it. 

"A lot of people are not familiar with haplo-diploid sex determination or traumatic insemination,” Connors said. "People choose to ignore animals that are not big, beautiful or grandiose, which is kind of too bad because insects are so insanely cool. Some of the most beautiful animals are the ones going extinct."

By teaching people about the natural world through an alien world, Connors wants to provide the springboard to disseminate nature to the public and encourage both appreciation and conservation action for the “alien-like” world of invertebrate animals. He said he’s already learning and acquiring daily inspiration through an entomology course he’s taking in the ecology and evolutionary biology department. 

People choose to ignore animals that are not big, beautiful or grandiose, which is kind of too bad because insects are so insanely cool. Some of the most beautiful animals are the ones going extinct.
— Christian Connors

“I had a dream last night,” Connors said, closing his sketchbook. “I was running through the woods on a Jupiter-like planet and there’s a giant storm and I look up and see smithsonite-colored clouds in the sky.” 


Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.