I love collecting intriguing images from chromatography and DNA gel electrophoresis, as well as things seen under the microscope and under the sea. Science keeps me inspired by the wondrous. And like a scientist, I call my paintings tests because they’re actual explorations of the phenomena of materials. I chart the intimate interactions between my materials and make notes directly on the paintings to help me track what’s happening.
I like to set up tension between a minimal, stripped-down aesthetic and effusive lush color — a type of color that suggests something outside of our ordinary, everyday world. Beautiful, but also sort of bizarre – inflamed, suggestive of energies that we can’t see. Instead of paint, I use my own custom formulas of deeply saturated inks, stains and dyes. Such colors can do things paint can’t do – bleed, shift, and migrate through other layers of paint, or change color, or even completely disappear. Even after years of study, I’m still intrigued by their hidden chemistries.
Like most painters I was taught to use archival materials and “proper” painting techniques. This practice was the original motivation behind a group of works I call Sun Tests. They started as a way of sorting out fugitive colors from those that are stable and lightfast. But instead of discarding such materials I’ve found myself attracted to them, drawn by the additional layer of complexity that such changes suggest and by the very notion of impermanence. Now I can design colors to shift in hue or gradually disappear while others remain permanent.
Time is not a dimension people usually think of for paintings. Even after you know about the testing process underpinning my work it’s tempting to view the paintings as static, frozen moments or phenomena captured in the acrylic film like bugs in amber. But they’re actually slow-motion performances changing imperceptibly over time as the materials continue to interact.
SubOptic & Ultra Marine
In the past few years I’ve also found another alternate body of work slowly coalescing in my studio – work that springs from my interest in landscape, the natural sciences (especially biology), maps of the earth, weather and storms. When I first saw Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, I was compelled to begin pulling these threads together around the idea of climate change, but haven’t shown these paintings until very recently.
A few years ago I finally launched this series in 2 solo shows, Ultra Marine: New Paintings and Drawings About the Sea, at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, (May, 2013), and SubOptic at Platform Gallery, (September, 2013). For those particular shows I focused on coral reefs. In a piece such as Coralline (bleaching), the forms reflect the clustered patterns of sea life in reefs, while the colors – some of which will actually fade over time – reference the problem of mass coral bleaching, where corals die due to a range of environmental stressors, especially increased acidity and water temperature. Core Sample is based on X-rays of corals, images which help scientists evaluate changes in the growth and composition of reefs over time. view Ultra Marine paintings – view SubOptic paintings
While this work is a departure from my Testing series, it remains connected to my continued exploration of the phenomena of materials, and fuses my interest in science with elements of color field painting, land art, process art and minimalism. I’ve discovered visual and investigative inspiration in other art & science unions, such as the early cyanotypes of British algae and seaweed by mid-nineteenth century artist Anna Atkins, who was an early photographer and botanist. And I’ve continued to develop my own custom formulas of deeply saturated inks, stains and dyes for use in these alternate paintings and drawings. The ideas of impermanence and change which I’ve been developing in the Testing series are put to good use in paintings which reflect on what’s happening to our planet.
My work is included in a wonderful new book Where Corals Lie: A Natural and Cultural History, by J. Malcolm Shick, London: Reaktion Books, p. 132–3. Available on Amazon.