Context over time

Sampled from my own library to evidence the inspiration of science over decades – into the present with A Universe from Nothing. See below Out of the Huge First Nothing – most recent painting in progress, nearing completion:


Historical context

This is many-layered as I am old enough to be able to look back on a body of work concentrating on paintings, made over a period spanning almost 35 years, which means I can remember very well the time when we did not have computers – eventually no one will be able to remember a time before the world went digital. I realise this gives me a special perspective.

My first context was as a student of Botany (now called Plant Sciences) at the Universiy of Manchester. I remember in particular the frustration I felt at being unable to express, yet being transfixed by, the world I saw looking down a microscope. An internal universe of cells forming the building blocks of the body, the internal universe evident in my paintings today.

Scientific drawing, which I was called on to do, is a harvesting of information about something exactly as it is, as far as possible without interpretation, certainly not imaginative interpretation. The fineness of scientific drawing is measured in terms of its accuracy of description. The rigor of science stays with me in the fineness that I aim for in the paintings, for me that fineness represents not so much accuracy as a depth and intensity of thought. Scientifically too, I have put my own work repeatedly to the test as I have gone along, Science does not make claims without proper evidence as back up. The beauty of Science is that, like Mathematics, it is a universal language understood by anyone in the world working in the same field. I have this feeling about the painting – that it should point towards the possibility of a universal language regardless of cultural background. so that my painting is more a matter of that which I have left out of it. I have wanted to allude to common ground, be expressive of commonalities between us all, that this is presented through my own subjectivity is something that cannot be otherwise. I have questioned myself, reflected intensely over many years, filtering and distilling in the form of the painting, leaving out all that is not needed, simplifying without oversimplifying.  To oversimplify, to my mind leads to a self- annihilation. I am after that which is expressive of common descent, human commonality without loss or compromise of individuality. I see the potential for communal solidarity so needed in the world today in numerous ways.  

The most obvious commonality is that we are all alive due to being bodies subject to the same processes that keep us alive, s diffusion, osmosis, and homeostasis.  I see my painting as a form of cultivation of that which has the property of being alive. I remember as a biologist culturing living things such as fungi, in Petri dishes, on nutrient agar. I see the surface of the painting as a nutrient medium, a fertile field.

I also studied Geology, which takes history back to before life began, connecting us to the even remoter past by an unbroken thread still within us today.  Everything has come from the same atoms that run through everything, the material first, life next, then the consciousness of being alive. My paintings are imbued with their own geology, they have layers of material. The inscapes represented in my pictures were once the external landscapes from which we have all come. I see a homeland and horizons which are common to all.

I can only just begin to touch on specific influences and inspirations as there are so many. One I remember, still at Manchester; as part of my paleobotany option I used the electron microscope and still have the pollen grain photos which I took myself; the whole procedure is intricate; the specimens had to be gold coated first – it felt artistic, the process was beautiful and the spatial came into play. I followed through the whole process myself and it was immensely satisfying. Rutherford first split the atom at Manchester University in one of the university labs there, all this is part of my context and history, and our history, all of it is embedded in the paintings.


– And my first ever encounter with a computer was at Manchester, the University a famous pioneer in the field. The machine took up a whole room and we were invited to feed it information on a piece of cardboard; I thought of it as an irrelevance but the sense of its impending relevance was palpable all around.

Note to Self: continue historical context – moving to beginning painting in Florence – art history and life inseparable. The material substance of paint: oil, and pigment, I began from an absolute material beginning.




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