THE LOGIC OF APPEARANCES |
THE LOGIC OF APPEARANCES
In an age of the computer and internet and the seemingly redundant role of painting today - where all possible methods have been explored, I make various attempts at refuting the postmodern idea that painting is dead. So what do I do? I try to find ways of making painting interesting and relevant again. When nearly everything is possible, and every possible way of painting has been done, then painting has virtually painted itself out of the picture as a vital and vibrant force in art. It is against this backdrop that the development of my art has grown, resulting in my hand-painted holographs, as well as my migrations into other fields such as stereoscopic imaging and microbiology.
It’s hard to pinpoint what I’m doing as an artist. I can describe what I do, but find it difficult to explain why! Furthermore, my art covers such a wide scope of activity that it sits happily amongst many genres. But one key source of difficulty for me has been the concept of the artist and in particular, the status of the painting and the painter today. A perspicacious comment by Francis Bacon, chimed with my own thought, even though our works and ethos widely differ. He said:
“One thing which has never been really worked out is how photography has completely altered figurative painting. I think Velasquez believed that he was recording the court at that time and certain people at that time. But a really good artist today would be forced to make a game of the same situation. He knows that particular thing could be recorded on film; so this side of his activity has been taken over by something else……………painting has become a kind of game, all art has become, a game by which man distracts himself. And you may say it has always been like that, but now it’s entirely a game. What is fascinating is that it’s going to become much more difficult for the artist, because he must really deepen the game to be any good at all, so that he can make life a bit more exciting…..” 1
Even though I reject the epithet of art as a game, nevertheless, I agree with the general idea; the situation for the artist, given the history of painting and invention of photography, makes it even harder to make any significantly unique contribution to painting. The situation is even further complicated today, by the image-manipulation possibilities of computers. Given the world of digital computers and the advances of science and technology, everything seems possible and painting seems largely redundant as a medium. My reaction to this has been to try even harder to rescue art and painting from the nihilism and negative ethos of the postmodern view and charter a renaissance.
The growth and ubiquity of scientific knowledge ought to be seen as a liberating and creative one fostering new fields of enquiry and facilitating the hitherto impossible and difficult. However there has been traditionally a considerable hostility towards science and the use of technologies such as computers in art, by both galleries and artists alike. The real issue is not one of replacement technologies, but solely what one can do with any particular medium. Indeed, the example of Leonardo da Vinci is a classical case where we see the merging of art and science. We do however see a growth in the numbers of artists now working in an interdisciplinary way in projects combining both art and science.
When does art become craft and vice versa? My art has been successive attempts at defining and refining methods and techniques, using different media. The choice of materials has been a conscious decision, but it evolves in both a conscious and unconscious way. There is a respect for the material; allowing the material to speak. Ideas have been the engine of creation. Rational ideas born out of material and process. Surrealism and science seem unlikely bedfellows, but they both conjoin in the artistic process.
THE SCIENCE OF PAINTING,P> Although what I make is ‘experimental’, it is I believe truly classical in the renaissance sense of the word. What people usually call classical art, is merely the appearance, the look of the thing – classical reduced to just style – the mimicking of visual characteristics of the period. My sense of classical, is one of curiosity, invention, enquiry, scientific exploration, humility, empowerment, sublimity, the aesthetic, wonderment, logic, knowledge and enlightenment. I would describe it as what in renaissance times was called natural philosophy; an enquiry into the nature of things through art and science - I am pursuing the Logic of Appearances – the order of things.
It could be said that what I am doing is taking post-impressionism to its conclusion, aiming at the classical renaissance ideals of perfection, mimicry, and realism. This must be contrasted with merely copying the classical style and craft, such as we get with so-called neoclassical artists. In this respect I share the stage with Seurat. Whilst it has been convenient for art historians to regard Seurat as a post-impressionist, in my eyes he is really a classical artist in the sense that I have defined.
The methods I use are a mixture of traditional methods, media and tools; mathematics are used to establish precise colour mixtures; computers spreadsheets are used to calculate pigment qualities; laboratory syringes are required to accurately measure liquid volumes of paint; a digital balance used to weigh precise additions of powders to the paint. In my optical paintings, I conducted absorption/reflectance experiments and derived equations that enabled me to make improvements in my colour mixing to achieve perfect colour balance. My research has included psychophysical methods developed in the 19c by such luminaries as Fechner and Weber; in colour perception experiments aimed at measuring the precise degree of sensations of colour and brightness. Their laws, in mathematical form, are necessary in the preparation of each painting. Colours are compared through repeated observations in order to determine scales of values that form the basis of accurate colour mixing.
This research led to the invention of the hand-painted holograph. This description reflects the fact that such paintings resemble holographs. A combination of motion parallax and optical subtraction from the moiré effect of the 2 net or metal grid screens in close proximity, generates an illusion of space - that exist virtually in the mind of the perceiver!
Thus art has become a science, a feat of engineering, a mathematical problem, the product of a restless curiosity – and it is these activities that align me with the spirit of the renaissance and the enlightenment. And it is also these activities that have opened up a surrealistic pathway into the universe in which we live - a universe where we are at once both a passenger and vehicle of our world of experience.
These unique works really have to be seen to be believed! No photograph can do them justice; they are optical paintings and to be truly appreciated, rely on the direct-perception of the viewer, thus in the digital age, what I am doing is reasserting the primacy of direct experience of the object.
They are constructed out of 2 net screens, each one painted with the same image but with different colours that are ‘optically’ balanced. By combining the screens, a 2-dimensional image is perceptually transformed into 3-dimensions., creating visual ‘illusionistic’ space which unlike conventional ‘tromp l’oeil’ paintings, exploits other particular properties of the eye and nervous system, in a new way.
When two mesh screens are superimposed, the well known moiré effect occurs; a pulsing shimmering effect that correlates with the movements of the eye and the structure of the mesh. This effect is purely a physical result of the holes being blocked by the front screen layer. This produces an illusion, a kind of enlarged multiplicity of images of successive individual holes in the mesh. The result is not unlike a holograph These works reveal the past in the present, combining both classical and modern approaches, and stand as an original contribution to the history of art, optics and the reconstruction of visual space. By renewing the past by re-presenting and rebuilding it, I create new objects. They are simultaneously both paintings and spatial sculptures made of light.
In the metal mesh painting of Keanu Reeves, the image is taken from the film The Matrix. As in the film I wanted to allude to the narrative of the questioning of reality and the idea of the simulacrum in which we exist. Mathematically the meaning of a matrix is a system of arrays of columns and rows. But it is also known as a place where something is created or formed. The first meaning of matrix, I refer to the physical structure of the metal mesh that is itself a physical embodiment of the mathematician’s idea of a Matrix; for each mesh possesses regular arrays of intersecting columns and rows.
The painting then, embodies both these two meanings of the word matrix. The painting itself is the place where the image is created. But more importantly, the perceived image is born between the two metal screens and is a result of the optical interaction between the two screens. Thus this particular interaction generates a unique appearance in the eye. But it does this because the eye, the retina and the perceptual apparatus of the brain, possess certain properties. So the matrix, i.e. the place where something is formed, is the complex of not just the physical object (the painting on 2 net screens), but also contains ourselves as perceiving entities. The Matrix, in the final analysis, constitutes the entire universe of what there is! This neatly captures my belief in the idea typified by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s of neutral monism which I paraphrase as – where anything exists as an interconnected part of a single universe, and that we exist as a conscious entity as an element in the matrix of phenomena of both mind and body. And this it has been said is one plausible narrative that the film The Matrix expresses –a world where it is hard specify exactly what is real and what is not!
This neural monism I also represented in the painting Spinozean Singularity work whereby the edges of photographs are dissolved by using oil paint, thus interlinking separate images, creating a new perceptual object. On the literal level, the images of Gods taken from all different cultures, have also become interlinked into one new universal object. Thus this is a painting of everything and reflects the pantheist conception of the philosopher Spinoza, who identified God with Nature or the Universe. The term Singularity, I borrowed from theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who originated the concept of the Singularity, marking the beginning of the universe - the start of the Big Bang, and the origin of space and time itself. Here I am alluding to the idea that all the Gods of the world are united into one God, and thus the word God taken in a pantheistic way, is an entity identical with nature. Thus the natural world itself, with all its objects, forces and laws, are the creators of us. If nature is the author of us, then nature is the God. The God is the universe. Plurality is subsumed by unity. This again echoes the Greek antithesis between the many and one; the opposition between a Parmenidean motionless solid-block universe, and the Heraclitean one of the many and the flux. I think it was the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus who said that everything is full of Gods. Now here, Gods could mean forces, causes, natural propensities, or even microscopic entities. Thus God is identical with the physical laws of the universe as experienced by us.
In the Skeleton of God painting, the pantheistic idea of God is also apparent. We are the authors of ourselves – we are God. DNA is the author of us – it is God. DNA was created in the universe, it is God – The universe is the author of us. The skeleton is a human one and it is God’s skeleton. We see ourselves as omnipotent, omniscient beings that control the world and discover its reality – we are the authors of the world, with all our facts, attitudes, beliefs, ideas, emotions and sentiments. That skeleton was also made by God. We are authors of ourselves and everything else. We are part of the skeleton of the universe – its structure – the totality of that structure presumably is identifiable with that structure – ie. There is an identity between the universe of all its objects, structures and laws of nature and God. God is not ineffable – but subsists in the very stuff of what we’re made, and instantiated in the fabric of everything that exists – God is identical with Nature.
TAPESTRY OF VISION
In traditional illusionistic painting, an illusionistic object is painted. In such paintings as Boundless Interiors and The Tapestry of Vision, the mind is fooled into mistaking the photo for the painting, which results from painting not the object, but the objects context – the imitation of the colours and tones of the boundaries of the photographs and extending them out of the object into the surrounding space – this becomes the new context in which the object is perceived. As the colour and tone of the photograph have been matched with paint, the painting and photograph cannot be distinguished, they blend imperceptibly into each other. Thus the status of the painting and photograph become ambiguous. Is it a painting or a photograph?
By removing photographs from magazines etc., we at once abstract them. Furthermore, by combining these fragments with paint in the way I have described above, they become further abstracted, forming a pattern which I call the tapestry of vision. But this pattern can be unravelled to reveal either the ‘abstract’ – when viewed from a distance; or the ‘real’ – when viewed close. These paintings dissolve these categories and yet uphold them. A double-aspect phenomenon is created, whereby we can switch and focus on either the detail of the photograph, or the same detail including its newly painted context, thus generating a new kind of object!
This is a qualia-extended representation - the boundaries of objects depicted are dissolved by extending the particular colour-sensations of the object such that its identity changes and transforms in the process of unification of object and background, thus creating a new object.
Act of creation and invention in the tapestry of vision series of works, here we have transformations of reality whereby the real is destroyed whilst at the same time upheld and transformed into a new object, a double-aspect phenomenon - the creation of a new abstract form becomes apparent.
PAINTING THE PORTRAIT
The face is one of the most resonant features of human beings, its importance can be measured in quantity of faces we are bombarded with through the media and advertising.
Working from largely photographic sources, images are manipulated through various means and processes invisible to the observer. I tried various ways of re-presenting the portrait, using painting, optical effects, photo-transfers and other materials, through the following methods:
i) Hand-painted holograph painted on net
I have been fascinated by the use of the portrait as a symbol for an idea or history of ideas, rather than simply as a depiction of a person. Instead of trying to depict and express the character of a person, the portrait as icon is used, which renders the art more conceptual in nature. Initially I worked from images of famous philosophers etc. These I used like confetti, sprinkling them all over the place, using photo-transfer techniques. But they were used to symbolise ideas, ideas that they were particularly famous for. They were also used en masse, to represent broader concepts such as reason, intellect, mind or thinkers, intellectuals etc. For example, Einstein was used to represent the mind, pictured in contrast to the body combining photo-images of flesh. Sometimes the portraits were grouped according to a theme or concept that united those people. E.g. In the works: the logical positivists, spectrum, post-modern window and the tower of Babel.
Given societies increasing obsession with celebrity culture, and abandonment of hi-culture, it would be crime not to reflect these social changes. The changes may be more apparent than real, but they seem to represent a general indifference to the intellectual and to the distrust of ideas and philosophy. In tandem with these societal transformation, has led me to reflect these cultural shifts and adopt icons from popular culture such as musician and actors. Here I tap into the well-trodden territory as pioneered by Andy Warhol, who with great insight chartered the path that society was to take in its current obsession with celebrity culture and the apotheosis of the celebrity.
I thought it exciting to combine the seemingly facile surface of pop icons and Hollywood actor’s images with intellectual abstractions of mathematics enshrined in optical art, creating a hybrid of hi-art and low-art. This raises questions over our ambivalent feelings over these categories and our relation to them. Here the intellectual content is not symbolised, but is embodied in its means of construction. Thus there is a hidden narrative that lies below the surface as well as one generated by the surface.
But actual choice of portraits are for different reasons; sometimes they are chosen because I liked them or what they represented; other times I tried to find visual equivalents for their personalities or talent - again sometimes it was just a particular expression or general look, perhaps to evoke an idea, emotion or atmosphere; or simply just as a class of people in a profession.
On the intellectual side, I applied mathematics to the pictorial realm, to create patterns and combining them with portraits to explore optical effects on canvas and nylon net. In some of these works, equal area quadratic equations, geometric series and integration were used.
THEATRE OF THE REAL
The acting profession is the stable of illusions; fictitious characters are portrayed. In combining optical patterns with portraits of actors, it would seem that there was little connection between them. But there is a relation, and that is that they share the characteristic of illusion. It was the illusory nature of art that led Plato to reject artists from his ideal society.
They are illusory in that both artist and actor create representations, and these representations means the presentation of something else in place of the real event of the person or the marks on a canvas.
In my optical painting on canvas, The man with no name, Clint Eastwood character is depicted from the Sergio Leoni's spaghetti western. The glitz and glamour of film is a world of illusion and colour, but here in this painting its antithesis is also apparent in the perceived grey world of a monochrome reality – two worlds running parallel with one another, and what we can truly call a psychophysical parallelism. The abstract and the real coexist, not just in the work or the world, but in all of us.
Bathed in the noonday sun, Clint is suffused by its rays, and the horizon is echoed by multiple bands of alternating red and green that spans the canvas. Clint exists like a mirage, viewed in the distance reappearing as an ice cool monochrome illusion in shades of grey! You can feel the heat of this canvas, and this heat paradoxically freezes the heat and obliterates the perceived colour. Thus is the power of art, balanced complementary colours and mathematics, that the original black and white image is reborn!
PATTERN IS EVERYTHING Another fascination of mine has been the discovery and use of pattern and this puts me in the international art school of pattern/decoration. But pattern is more than just superficial surface decoration. I have been using pattern to create optical effects, and using mathematics in creating pattern. Pattern is fundamental to the structure of the world and universe.
The English mathematician Roger Penrose made the point that our bodies are continually being rebuilt, therefore pattern is the thing that is constant. Pattern is something we tend to regard as frivolous or just decorative, but it can be more than just that: pattern is structure, and thus it is relationships that endure. Pattern is the ultimate reality, and scientists have pursued it for centuries; in fact the concept goes back to the ancient Greeks and their idea of the logos. They sought the order of things, the order of the world, the order of ourselves and our relationship to that world.
Pattern can be more than decoration, it can be significant form – through the elements of line, shapes and colour, pattern can form the architecture of a narrative, or at least metaphor. Gestalt factors come into play. Artists, mathematicans and scientists readily appreciate the beauty of nature, its laws, logic, equations and patterns. These features discovered in our world of appearances, demonstrate that there is a beauty in the logic of appearances.
TOWER OF BABEL
This is an art installation where light, movement, ideas, knowledge, art and science, combine to form a complete artwork in which chaos and order come together via the surreal and classical juxtapositions of its 3 major components: glass bottles, water and photocopied portraits.
The Column: it stands at 4 metres high and is classical in form, but almost entirely made of bottles – 840 of them to be precise. The bottles all contain water, and thus act as lenses, which reflect photo-images of philosophers and scientists – these were arranged chronologically, starting with the ancient Greeks at the base of the tower, and moving vertically up through history, the summit reaches the postmodern era. As you walk around the column, the images appear to move in the opposite direction to the movement of the observer. Thus the column appears to rotate in perception. Moreover, the higher up the column you observe, the more the images start to rotate chaotically in either direction – thus we get what I call the ‘Babel-effect’ where there is an oscillating clockwise and counter wise, motion parallax.
This juxtaposition of the Babel-effect with the history of philosophy in portraits, creates an analogy between the biblical story of the ‘Tower of Babel’, and the noise and Babel of our contemporary postmodern, a world characterised by epistemological crisis, relativism and nihilism. But paradoxically, by a shift of focus, the antithesis to this is that the tower stands erect and exists by virtue of the same properties of the materials and laws that existed in any epoch -thus this speaks to us in a different and positive way, affirming some of life’s universal constants – there is gravity, there is light! The light of Newton, Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, Huygens, Galileo, Leuwenhoek, Russell, Whitehead, Kant and Locke. The tower is supported by its own weight - The force of gravity combined with knowledge of its interaction with different bodies, allows the tower to be built. The optical qualities of glass and water functioning as lenses, assert empirical truths – a realism that is a reflection of ourselves in dynamic relation to all the world’s objects - we can create, we can find structure in the world - all is not chaos!
THE BEAUTIFUL IDEA – THE LOGIC OF APPEARANCES
What motivates me is the quest for the beautiful idea, something similar to André Breton's conception of the marvellous, and perhaps Nietzsche’s category of the Apollonian. It is also related to the Greek concept of the logos.
My aesthetic could be seen as the beauty of the means of construction, such that it allows the production of a marvellous occasion in sensation, perception and cognition – revelation and euphoria in art! In art historical and cultural terms: surrealism, symbolism, expressionism, conceptual and optical art, are the obvious features of my work. The conceptual art side is perhaps one more of subterfuge in that traditional media are used, but developed in hitherto unexpected ways, ways that demand abstract conceptual analysis in such realms as mathematics, chemistry and psychophysics. Conceptual art is not used to displace conventional artistic practice or have a deconstructive role, but to enhance it and take it beyond its own tradition – the originality is important and makes it worth doing. Without an original element, the art is pointless. Positive advance and progress are championed. There is no attachment to any particular medium, no purist attitude, which again is pointless. All that is asked of a medium is whether it is fit for the job of generating hyper-aesthetic moments in the mind of the perceiver.
An important aim of my work has been to try to bring about a sense of revelation from the most mundane of sources, and re-invoke the majesty, wonder, mystery and objectness, of our surrounding familiar world of prosaic objects. It is as adults that we lose this affective dimension to our existence; children seem too readily to respond to the world with wonder and awe etc., creating surprising metaphors inconceivable by adults. Banal objects take on a grandeur, a metaphysical aspect, attaining a surreality, where the prosaic world of the familiar become gauges of a noumenal world; a world that transcends our everyday world of the particular. This is clearly a continuing of a romantic tradition that stretches from Rousseau, the symbolists, magical realism, metaphysical art and surrealism.
In my painting Storm in Teacup; a cup and saucer are depicted, but reproduced via vertical bands of alternating complementary colours. Mathematics has been employed in arranging these bands in a geometric series approaching infinity. This point lays in the central area of the cup, hence the title: Storm in a Teacup. Thus idea of the infinite, is aligned to the locality of the teacup, something not very big, and yet paradoxically, infinity is never-ending, and huge, therefore the cup never ends! Thus the teacup is magically transformed by the power of art - at once alchemy, art and science!
Beauty is an unfashionable word these days in the area of art. But in the world of fashion, cosmetics and music, the idea of beauty is its lifeblood and sole raison d’être. The idea of beauty occupies our lives, continually pumped through our brains via the newspaper, movies, TV, and internet. The idea of beauty is one of the enduring values of our contemporary lifestyle and society. Our contemporary disenchantment and rejection of ideology; a distrust scepticism of the world of ideas, the intellectual, the philosophical; has been usurped by the rekindling of our natural bodily desires, the rejection of the spiritual and religious, and replaced by the material values, especially the idea of the beautiful whether that be an it girl in Elle, a Hollywood starlet or the Sun’s page 3 girl.
But the idea of beauty invades every aspect of our lives, extending not only to ourselves as bodily objects, but also to our thoughts, feelings and visions. Indeed there are niche markets of alternative lifestyles that aim to improve our lives through practises such as yoga and homeopathy, groups that market an aesthetic of the body as an organic whole; or focus on the spiritual centres of the body; the discovery of the self; the explorations of feeling. Many of these ideas and practises, once the province of the alternative and eccentric minorities, have become absorbed into the mainstream.
The idea of beauty is a beautiful idea in itself. There is such a thing as a beautiful idea, and that in essence is what interests me. We live in a world where minds, objects, beauty, pattern and theatre intertwine – and these phenomena characterise the logic of appearances.
The marvellous can be attained by accident, the exploring the unconscious or by pursuing various methodologies, drawing upon any subject-matter, discipline or idea, from the very small - the microscopic, the minutia of life - to the very big; the astronomic and infinite. The surrealists knew this, so do the scientists. The marvellous is identical with the logic of appearances, and this forms the magic and miracle of life.
Roy Amiss, January 2011.
1. Chipp, H.B., Theories of Modern Art; Quotation from extract of Bacon interview with David Sylvester, 1963. p621, Pub.Univ. of California Press, 4th paperback edition, 1978.
Roy Amiss, London 1958,P> Roy Amiss is a painter, designer, writer, musician and songwriter. Inspired by science, surrealism, philosophy, logic, and postmodernism. Studied biological sciences and painting (BA hons). Exhibited internationally and sold work at Christie’s and Bonham’s auction houses.
*Postmodernism, Surrealism and Classicism; essay for exhibition catalogue
pub.Schroder Foundation; 1994.