Detail View (Click to Enlarge)
Further Detail (Click to Enlarge)
The motivation for my work was a fascination with the evolution of life on earth during the past 590 million years. Initiated by scientific findings my line of inquiry operates through artistic perspectives and methodologies concerning landscapes in flux (by flux I mean a property of both change and time) and qualities of light. The artwork explores both scientific and artistic perspectives. It features broad states in which life has continued within a changing environment and depicts selected events that have accumulated during life on earth during the past 590 million years.
The work at both an aesthetic and theoretical level is multi-layered. The time scale for the work spans the last 590 million years. Geologists and palaeontologists call this time the Metazoan which has in turn been divided into three eras; and within each era are periods; there are eleven periods in all. Each panel of my painting represents a different period of geological time. The width of each panel is determined by a distance-time ratio where one millimetre represents one million years. As a reminder of time running the length of the work at the top of each panel are life forms that are symbolic representations of the geological chronology of appearances. The last panel represents the last period of the Metazoic period. To date it has had a duration of 3 million years and is therefore only 3cm wide. This is the period in which the human species has risen to prominence; the last 100 000 years is 1mm wide.
The height of each of the 11 panels is 120cm. This consistent measurement provides the same conceptual space namely the Earth for each period. Two graphs interwoven within the work indicate trends throughout the Metazoic. They run from left to right flowing in continual but intermittent pulses across the full length of the work. This expresses the fact that I am very conscious about how much more there is still to learn on this subject. Both graphs are blue. This was a deliberate decision on my part for I do not wish to express anything as a certainty. I feel it is also a way to encourage the viewer to establish through their own research the identity of the graphs. The first graph represents sea level fluctuations over time. The second graph represents mean temperature of the globe over time.
My landscape is in flux. It is a landscape of shifting surfaces whose fluctuations produce a curvature that is organic in its aesthetic and thus has a calming effect on the eye. The moment requires a strength and contrast that the passage of deep time does not normally convey when it is contemplated. In executing the work I felt a need to convey time through visual space on the image. With this aesthetic and spiritual sensibility the work has much in common with many ancient Chinese landscape artists. Through intricate drawings and loose brush work a balance of contrasts is achieved between the depiction of a landscape that is of the moment and concurrently in a state of becoming. The presence of the moment stands in contrast to the eternal.
The drawings that are present throughout the work only become apparent on closer examination. The graphite drawings are interwoven and subtly integrated so that from a distance they do not capture the attention of the viewer but encourage the eye to appreciate totality. This is achieved by the misty paint which from a distance has indistinct forms but up close the drawings evoke interest and encourage the study and appreciation of detail. With the exception of the graphs the paint operates as a tool to express the breadth of wonder detachment and participation that I feel when considering the process of evolution. The drawings serve as a form of segmented documentation that give examples of selected life forms that existed within the different periods I see them as footnotes of geological time. I draw the life forms froms using the fossil record to display a range of morphologies and habitats. Through the strategic placement of chosen morphologies my drawings allow the viewer to understand what they may have seen during the different stages of metazoan speciation. The seemingly random arrangement of these emblems within the panels is not random. It gives a form to the gene stream and thus creates a linear effect. To convey a variety of distant positions in time I use the contrast between the paint and the graphite.
I expect the aesthetic of the work to implicitly involve references to a sense of the real. Through it I am discussing questions of what life is how life is apparent and where life exists. I believe that artists who present work that operates on one level as a way of informing the public about a field of scientific research should be encouraged.
Experiencing the landscape art of ancient China has deeply enriched my awareness of the possibilities of landscape painting. As a common methodology the artists embarked on a journey of contemplation through nature. Only when they had settled upon what they interpreted as nature’s mood did they return home. The artists would then attempt to recapture this mood through the work. A diverse range of pictorial strategies and spatial qualities was used to achieve spiritual meaning.
“Through a technique of broken washes Zen artists sought to express the underlying unity of all things whilst still appreciating the delicacy and intricacy of nature” (Sullivan 1979)
The intent is to convey an atmosphere of balance and harmony. The painting “Sunset Glow on a Fishing Village” attributed to Mu-chi 13th century provides us with such an example.
“The mountains hang before us as if they would melt away at any moment into an all-enveloping mist. However the dark accents provided by the tree trunks and distant roofs that are too sharp to be true nature do not allow this. These details fix the viewers eyes so that they do not simply wander idly over the misty landscape. Yet as in meditation the end of the painter’s efforts and of the viewers is to come to a state of unutterable peace” (Sullivan 1979).
Such paintings display a mastery of perspective and feature a strong sense of design and contrast in which areas of detailed emphasis are distributed across the picture plane. These detailed areas draw the viewer’s attention to a “significant point while the world around dissolves in mist and silence” (Sullivan 1979). This may be a strategy for conveying the presence of time in a two dimensional work. If so like nature in western painting it is a quality to be either endured or brought into harmony.
Visually this work supports the notion of life as a collective body that flows through space and time. It is based upon the models of organic evolution proposed by Dawkins (1995) in “River out of Eden”.
“Life can be perceived as a river. This river is a river of DNA that flows through time not space. It is a river of information: a river of abstract instructions for building bodies which is not influenced by the physical achievements of individuals whose bodies comprise the banks of the river” (Dawkins).
My work also borrows from James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia.
“It is a complex entity involving the Earth's biomass atmosphere oceans and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet” Lovelock (1991).
By combining the two models in one work I am expressing my view that both are valid constructs of the world. My vision is of ecosystems taking on the form of pools of genetic diversity. Collectively these pools form an ocean of biodiversity that encompasses the globe. This ocean that reaches high into the atmosphere and deep into the earth becomes less dense until it fades away. Genetic currents and streams run through the ocean. The earth is virtually saturated in life.