A PORTRAIT OF THE (UNIQUE) ARTIST; Jacksonville's Princess Rashid Is a Woman of Many Passions: Fencing, Art, Science -- They All Make Her Who She Is

Article excerpt

Byline: Konrad Marshall

Princess Rashid stood panting and perspiring on the piste at the Jacksonville Fencing Club, the smallest person in the room but easily the biggest figure.

She wore faded black track pants, a blue bandana and a white protective tunic, ripe with the dour smell of sweat. Donning a fencer's mask, Rashid, 35, bounced on the balls of her feet and flicked her wrist over, ripping her dueling sword through the warm night air with a swish.

As her steel collided with that of her coach, a hollow clack and clatter rang out, followed by the dull thud of metal on fabric.

Another Tuesday night, another fatal blow.

"I love the head shot!" Rashid said. "It is so satisfying to hit someone upside the head. Ugh! It's good!"

This is the type of thing you don't expect to hear from a scientist, or an artist, or a woman named Princess. Indeed, the passions of Princess Rashid - a Jacksonville painter, astronomer and physicist, and fencer - seem mutually exclusive at first.

But Rashid believes in the compatibility of science and art, math and abstraction, perception and action. And it seems to believe in her.

Rashid won a national fencing title in 2006, and last week she opened the first ever art exhibition at the Museum of Science and History. Now, the Georgia State science graduate has her sights set on a Ph.D.

Einstein played the violin, and da Vinci was an empiricist. Why shouldn't a bookish girl from the suburbs of New Jersey emerge as a modern-day Renaissance woman?

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As a child, Rashid loved reading science fiction and fantasy, but it wasn't long before she was trying her hand at Charlemagne and Shakespeare.

With her not yet 10, the big books were well above her reading level, but she didn't want them to remain there. She re-read books such as From Here To Eternity every year until they made sense. In Rashid's mind, literature was a language to be understood.

That need to conquer the language above her led Rashid to science. In high school, she stubbornly chose classes in chemistry because she was struggling with math. Compositions and formulas helped her crack the code.

When she went to Georgia State University, she pursued more intense study in physics and astronomy and was soon playing with lasers in nanotechnology labs, working to change the optical properties of cadmium sulfide, leading her mind into the realm of art.

The week after graduation, she married the man she met in the science fiction club at school. They moved to Puerto Rico, where she studied printmaking and painting at the Escuela de Artes Plastica. His work as a Navy pilot led them to Jacksonville, and that's where she began to fuse her passions into one obsession.

Rashid sees no reason why science and art cannot be - should not be - passionate bedfellows, or at least best buddies. She's working on her thesis proposal for an interdisciplinary graduate program on brains and behavior.

"It's about sensory input, perception and vision, and what's happening in neuroscience. What processes go through the brain?" she said. "You either hate a painting or you love it. Why? You get it or you don't. Why?"

Working on a painting one recent Wednesday morning, Rashid stood and stared, and it was hard to tell if she hated her work or loved it, if she got it or she didn't, and why.

Wearing jeans and a sleeveless red T-shirt that showed off the sinewy muscle of her 5-foot-4, 120-pound frame, she pulled her brush from a paint-filled yogurt container and dripped lines and dots and splashes of color on the canvas. The buzzing whir of an old fan filled the studio on the second floor of the Carling building downtown.

The speckles, dots and stripes began to resemble beautiful constellations in the night sky, but looking pretty is never enough for Rashid. …