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Art Theme

Art theme: The dynamical.

Every truth is fragile, every knowledge must be learned over and over again, every night, that we grow not in a straight line but in ascending and descending and tilting circles and that what gives us power one year robs us of power the next, for nothing is settled, ever, for anyone. What makes this bearable is awe (Castaneda).

My work is sparked by feelings of awe; awe for the consciousness we individually make and awe for the elements of nature. These ‘landscapes’, these minutely observed investigations of nature, are metaphors for consciousness and the dynamical elements of nature. Nature presents us with the unique, the never-to-be-repeated. I have a compulsion to observe and acknowledge these transient phenomena made visible by light – in this body of work it is the ocean hit by sunlight, alternately illuminated by moonlight.

Damasio refers to “stepping into the light” as a powerful metaphor for consciousness – for the birth of the knowing mind, for the simple and yet momentous coming of the sense of self into the world of the mental. There is a transition from innocence and ignorance to knowingness and selfness. To me that realization also embodies a threshold that separates us from the safety of what is known to us, to the exploratory nature of the unknown, with its inherent but often concealed potential for change. Yet, we know this ‘unknownness’ conceptually and physically at a deeper level – it is where the past and the future connect in the continuum of life and embody a sense of the eternal.

Samuel Coleridge said of his creative process: “ In looking at objects of Nature, I seem rather to be seeking .… a symbolic language for something in me that already and for ever exists, than observing anything new.” Making art is, in a sense, my metaphoric here-and-now gateway between the past and the future, and possibly a zone between my inner and outer worlds, where I transform that which already exists.

The most interesting areas in nature are the dynamical - those reflecting paradox and change, examples of which abound in nature. Dynamical systems have transition areas – the points at which the system moves from simplicity to complexity, from bright, stable order (or symmetry) to the black, impenetrable movement of chaos. Briggs (1994:20), states that it appears that in dynamical systems chaos and order are different masks the system wears: in some circumstances the system shows one face; in different circumstances it shows another. These systems can appear to be simple or they can appear to be complex; their simplicity and complexity lurk inside each other, indicating that they are perhaps different types of sameness.

This primordial duality and its resultant dynamics fascinate me. Natural systems present perfect metaphors for this unlocking, or ‘opening up’ of undisclosed potential which unfolds according to inherent embodied information and often paradoxical stimuli. Examples of this fascinating process are storm clouds gathering and being spent, waves forming and dissipating, or wind and water shaping and dissolving sand formations.

My works are also dual in their nature. They are close-up views; I seem to move through the surface of my subject matter in order to become one with the substance. Yet, simultaneously, my view is distant, from a great height or an aerial photograph. Thus the sense of space and perspective is destabilized. This does not imply a chaotic view – on the contrary, this duality is often especially evident in the liminal, where a system reaches a point of equilibrium and appears to be stable before changing once more.

There is also a tension between abstraction and reality. The works are sometimes scientific in observation and are thus inherently ‘real’; they depict the thing-in-itself. Yet, these are also abstract works, as much about surface, mark making, pattern, process and material as about any thing that might be represented. They demonstrate, as do dynamical systems, an interconnectedness where everything is in a sense interacting with everything else. I have a compulsion to observe and constantly renew an appreciation of how sensitive things are to their initial conditions. It seems that no system changes in isolation of its environment.

This implies a holism in which everything influences or potentially influences everything else. “At any moment, the feedback in a dynamical system may amplify some unsuspected “external” or “internal” influence, displaying this holistic interconnection. So paradoxically, the study of chaos is also the study of wholeness” (Briggs 1994:21). To me the unexpected, as well as that which we cannot control - the dynamical in nature and in consciousness – is the whole from which emerges the mystery.

Medium: Oils on canvas and chalk pastels on paper.


Briggs, J. 1994. Fractals: the patterns of chaos. London: Thames & Hudson.

No matter how good a scientific model or formula, there is always a fundamental unpredictability and uncertainty driving nature. Briggs refers to the old scientific concept of the “ balance of nature” quietly being replaced by the new concept of the dynamic, creative, and diversified “chaos of nature” (1994: 41).

Czikszentmihalyi, M. 2002. Flow. London: Rider. He (2002: 9,10, 192-213, 242), refers to the link between optimal experience and chaos: “The….value of life cannot be understood except against the background of its problems and dangers.” Likewise, a peak in nature seems only elevated when viewed in context with a plateau or a depression. A wave is only a wave when viewed as part of the ocean.

Damasio, A. 2000. The feeling of what happens: body, emotion and the making of consciousness London : Rider. At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and nurture a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.

Gray, J. 2003. Straw dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals. London: Granta. Mankind’s efforts to control its environment bear testimony to denial of its contingency and insignificance. Through fundamentalism in science, religion and politics mankind has convinced itself that it is of more importance than other life forms. “Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?” (2003: 199).

Hodson, P. 2001. The individuating Ancient Mariner. Mantis, Winter: 4 – 22. There are certain similarities between Gray’s reference to mankind’s culture of action and so-called progress due to denial of contingency, which results in the destruction of the world, and also Hodson’s reference to the personal individuating process, when he describes the mariner’s slaying of the albatross:

I think that preparedness to allow the death of the old ego attitude, to suffer the loss associated with it and not to resort to action but to be ‘actively passive’ and bear witness, has resulted in the redemption of Eros, which manifests in a different way of explaining the world. The ego-drivenness of the earlier stage has been replaced by a sense of connectedness to the world, both inner and outer. Previously, by the sun’s light – the unbalanced masculine principle, the attitude towards the sea, the unconscious, had been one of either drivenness or repulsion. In the absence of Eros, the power principle dominated ego consciousness – one’s own Self was something to be controlled and overcome, as exemplified by the Mariner’s killing of the Albatross. Now by the moon’s light with the redemption of Eros, the Mariner is able to love and relate to the totality of life, both internal and external. His life is held and given meaning by an awareness of a pattern that links his life to all life (2001: 19).

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