Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Tree of Life Mixed media on paper 15 x 21 cm 2015
Regular readers know I love the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life symbol. Why do I love it?
  • The fact that it is age-old and crosses cultures/religions means that it connects life across time and space. When I paint my versions of the tree-of-life I feel connected, not only to the past but to future life also. The power of connection is of paramount importance as we are propelled into the cosmological 21st century.
  • Its branching appearance reflects systems of all kinds, both natural and human-made. These systems lie within our bodies and repeat across the Earth and also the Universe, at micro and macro scales. When I say human-made I mean such things as traffic systems, electrical circuitry, computer chips, telegraphic connections and more.  
  • My quest to untether the tree-of-life from traditional visual depictions, in order to tease out its potential meaningfulness in the 21st century, excites me emotionally, creatively and intellectually!
  • The symbol's meta capacities, I suspect, may help us remember what it means to be human. In an age where scientists, researchers and philosophers warn about existential risks posed by artificial intelligence and associated, maybe symbolic connection will not only save us, but also allow us to forge technological pathways that are even more immensely beneficial for us and all living well as Earth and the Universe.

    Whoa! That's huge! Hey, I'm an artist and I can dream....
And, when artists dream they invite you to enter a world of possibility. In my case, my dreams are not without nightmarish dystopian possibilities, but I use the tree-of-life as a beacon of hope and beauty.
Life Calling Mixed media on paper 15 x 21 cm 2015 [SOLD]
Here's a link to a 2011 post I wrote about the influence of the tree-of-life on my work.
And links to recent posts where I discuss some of my paintings combining the tree-of-life with another symbol of life...binary code for LIFE
And, I enjoy the contrariness of using a traditional painting technology to paint images that reflect upon high-tech aspects of 21st century life and activity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Unseen Oil on linen 90 x 80 cm

Unseen is the fourth 'code' painting I mentioned in my last post Universal Code

Like my recent painting and post Where There's Life There's... Unseen was inspired by  an article Terminator Robots and AI Risk by Meia Chita-Tegmark. She is a PhD candidate at Boston University and a co-founder of the Future Of Life Institute, a research think-tank focused on mitigating existential risks, including those posed by human level artificial intelligence [AGI]. In her article Chita-Tegmark warns that the real danger in artificial intelligence may lie in humanity's tendency to 'embody' its fears in images and depictions of objects such as terminator robots, thus diverting our attention from the unseen, and potentially really dangerous, aspect of AI: unseen code...strings of zeros and ones. She writes, Evolution has not equipped us to deal with such ghostly entities that don't come in the form of steel skeletons with red shiny eyes, but in the form of menacing arrangements of zeros and ones.

UNSEEN Unseen I've tried to make the unseen...seen. But, not in a technical way. Instead I have juxtaposed an age-old symbol for LIFE, the transcultural/religious tree-of-life, with binary code, another kind of symbol, which repeatedly expresses the word LIFE.

Tree branches interspersed along the ribbon of binary code, are placed deliberately. Three branches seem to grow from the tree and two others appear to 'grow' from the coil of code. Where does life begin and end? Does code appropriate LIFE, thus simulating it? Or, maybe there is a Universal Code, without time and space, that seeds all LIFE, simulated or not? Lots of questions!

The colours of the tree's roots are the same vibrant colours used to paint the binary code. Yes, it's deliberate...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Universal Code Oil on linen 92 x 102 cm
CODE really has grabbed my attention. There are four recent paintings to prove it. I've written about two of them Code and Where there's Life There's... And, now Universal Code above. The fourth painting is yet to be completed. You will see it soon, here on this BLOG.
The word code is a loaded one. It conjures thoughts of secrecy, war time decoding of enemy messages, morse code and secret service type manoeuvrings. Then we have a more secular use of code that embraces body language, innuendo, know the type of thing...when someone is not saying clearly what they mean, but seem to think [or hope] others will understand. And, then we have computer code.
And, computer code propels so much of our lives, from daily tasks to major research, from BPAY to high frequency market trading and more. I am sitting in front of my computer, writing this post, and code is working in the background enabling my words to appear, even correcting them. Code is helping me produce and communicate. And, of course there is the insidious aspect of code enabling surveillance, secrecy, data collection, cyber malevolence, manipulation and more. And, let's not forget the double-edged prospect of artificial general intelligence ie: artificial intelligence akin to, and perhaps exceeding, human intelligence.    
But, my paintings are not literally about code...I am not a computer scientist nor an IT specialist. However, I do have an IT specialist brother and my Dad is a decades-long HAM Radio enthusiast with a keen interest in, and knowledge about, technology.
As with my last two 'code' paintings  Code and Where there's Life There's... my new painting Universal Code has a ribbon-like trail of binary code, repeatedly expressing the word LIFE.
Here's a very useful and interesting link that briefly discusses the history of binary code and its importance. Indeed, the first two sentences on the siteAll computer language is based on binary code. It is the back end of all computer functioning. very clearly shows how important binary code is. And, what is absolutely fascinating is that binary code's history flows from Sanscrit, to the 17th century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, to people like Alan Turing and Sir Tim Berners-Lee...and the plethora of others who make pivotal technological breakthroughs. 
The ribbon of LIFE binary code in Universal Code has a wave-like appearance. But, it appears to be a closed ribbon cradling a pulsing orb at the same time as seemingly 'withholding' external forces. Yet whilst the ribbon may appear closed, there is a tunnel-like feeling, as if the viewer is being drawn towards the golden orb or possibly catapulted from it. This gives the impression that we have travelled, or can travel, through a number of these ribbon-like sequences of code, either towards or away from the orb. When painting Universal Code I wanted to create a dynamic resonance of movement, agitation and energy. The way the paint cascades out from the orb suggests a multi-dimensionality of space...and maybe time too. Funnily enough it also suggests a birth canal or maybe the light seen upon death?

Detail of Universal Code
I was also thinking about Prof Nick Bostrom's theory that all of universal existence is, in fact, a computer simulation operated by post-humans re-living existence. Here's his initial paper Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? You can also read more about the theory, with contributions from others HERE. I've previously written about how this intriguing and difficult theory has inspired some of my work. I am not saying I completely understand it, but its possibility is enormously thought provoking.
What is Universal Code's golden orb? Some might say it is the Sun. Others might think it is the Big Bang. Or it could be a star, a planet, an atom even. Well it could be all of these things and more. Any one of these would suggest that the painting is a landscape...a landscape of the Universe! And, regular readers know of my desire to untether concepts of landscape from Earth-bound horizons.
Or, maybe the orb is the highly sophisticated post-human 'computer' generating code which re-creates, maybe over and over again, in a kind of looping manner, all of existence. My repetition of LIFE in binary code sets up the potential for many looping re-creations! BUT...if we are a simulation run by post-humans, we are neither alive nor dead! Gee whizz that's a sobering thought! But, if we are not a simulation, there's an imperative for LIFE to continue. I did not include the code for DEATH, because whether we are a simulation or not, LIFE is a propelling force. It is a primary force, which axiomatically, includes concepts of DEATH anyway.
If we are living in a computer simulation the word LIFE certainly takes on different meanings. Indeed, to reduce LIFE to code provokes many existential questions. In fact, it is an important catalyst for reflection. And, that's why I think it is imperative that humankind pays attention to scientists, philosophers and anyone who thoughtfully poses questions about human endeavour.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015


Ripped up works on paper
In a recent post called How Long Does It Take? I wrote about process...the painting process and particularly my kind of process. Interestingly a few artists, who also embrace the 'accident', the 'mistake' and understand the need for 'failure', have commented on how refreshing it is for an artist to reveal the underbelly of studio practice. By underbelly, I mean the fact that success and failure are handmaidens, with all the accompanying emotions across the distance between them. 
Sometimes a painting, that I consider a success, is completed very quickly. Yet, it's not as simple as isolating a painting in such a way. Why? Because, paintings don't exist without many preceding 'failures'...and successes too. It's part of an ongoing experiment...for me, the experiment is both about technique/medium, and how ideas might be evoked and delivered.

The photo above displays a pile of torn up works on paper. For a variety or reasons I felt they were not working out. With some I had walked away, hoping to return with 'new eyes' and Ah Ha revelations of what my next mark should be. Others were quickly ripped...yes with some frustration too! Yet, I know it's all just part of a process. Each 'failure' teaches me something, scaffolding my practice in a reality that keeps me stimulated. Boredom is definitely not something I experience when I'm in my studio.
One delightful thing about embracing failures, accidents and mistakes, as part of a normal process, is that regurgitating the same image, with only slight variations, is impossible!
So, here are three works on paper that I consider to be successful, for all sorts of reasons. You, however, may not agree...and that's absolutely ok!
Life Calling Gouache and watercolour on paper 15 x 21 cm
As I wrote above the ongoing experiment, for me, is about technique/medium and how ideas might be evoked and delivered. So success, is a result of complex jugglings and assimilations of practical application and intellectual processes, aided and abetted by my emotional responses and feedback loops. Some of these emotions are triggered by aesthetics and others by intellectual excitement that agitates not only the mind, but the spirit and soul.
I consider Life Calling [above] a successful painting. Why? Because, I think it is aesthetically quite beautiful, but I also get an intellectual kick out of the possibilities in the juxtaposition of the tree and round ball. It is not clear what their relationship is or means. I like that this ambiguity poses lots of questions. The title provides potential clues perhaps...but it does not give an answer. Regular readers know I like ambiguity and the array of questions it allows. These questions are essentially wonderings and regular readers know I like to provoke wonder, for it is a gateway to....  
Another painting Life Calling: Anyone There? might also interest you. You can see it and read about it HERE
Cosmic Cascade Gouache and watercolour on paper 21 x 30 cm
I also consider Cosmic Cascade to be a successful painting, for the same reasons that I think Life Calling is successful. Yes, there both have aesthetic and intellectual elements that excite me. And... yes, my interest in cosmology, the scientific study of the universe [maybe multiverse!] is evident, but I like to think it is not delivered in a didactic manner that shuts down wonder, spiritual investigations, emotionality and more.
This painting 'plays' with perspective, literally and metaphorically. The round balls seem to recede from the viewer into a distance, but are the balls planets or could they be atoms, or specs of dust...or even a history of thoughts?
Can We Leave? Gouache and watercolour on paper 21 x 30 cm
I nearly tore up Can We Leave? Yep, it was nearly cast into the studio graveyard where all failures go! This was before it was given a title and well before I painted the white ball or the blue lines. In fact, there's a whole layer of other paint underneath what you now see. This is one of those paintings I left, walked out on, hoping that when I returned with 'new eyes' I'd see clues for my next marks. And, in this case, I think anyway, it worked! I sprayed it with water, splashed more paint around, manipulated/painted a few areas and then I let it dry. I liked the result. I then painted the white ball and felt compelled to put the blue lines over the white.
Yes, compelled...strange way of painting? Not really. Compulsion comes from an instinct which has been honed by years of painting and thinking. In this case, it was an aesthetic instinct coupled with lots of thoughts triggered by recent articles about discoveries of potential Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars ie: maybe potential new planetary 'homes. Also, articles about plans to send humans on a one way trip to Mars. And, articles about potential existential risks we humans have 'invited' to the matrix of natural ones.
But, can humanity leave Earth? Have we created problems, such as climate change, bio-threats, nuclear threats and more, that mean human life on Earth will be cut short, before we have developed safe ways of escape? There seems to be an imperative to look after ourselves and the planet, to give us time to work out how to leave! The white lines painted over the white ball could be prison bars. But, are they bars across Earth symbolising that there is no escape? Or are they security bars symbolising another planet's protection? Yet, they maybe Earthly security bars symbolising our desire to protect our current planetary home? More broadly speaking the idea of security expresses itself across a plethora of human endeavour, physical, emotional, spiritual and more. Can we leave? poses even more questions...should we leave, how to leave, when to leave, why leave, what are we leaving, what are we leaving for, who can leave....?
  • I have a 'shop' on my website where I have listed small oil paintings and works on paper for sale. And, they can be purchased online via PayPal. The link is HERE