A depiction of the concept of a superorganism.
A superorganism is the name given to such things as colonies of insects in which the members of the colony act together so that the whole colony functions as though it is a single entity, and in which the individual members of the colony are probably not viable to survive alone.
In the image hundreds (or maybe thousands – I lost count) of ants swarm across a rock and form into the shape of a huge ant.
Metamorphosis (from pie containers to insect larvae)
Wood (food containers). 2021.
A sculpture fabricated from wooden pie containers.
The pie containers, for Charlie Bigham pies, are stacked as curved forms suggestive of insect larvae such as caterpillars or grubs.
Insect larvae undergo metamorphosis when they change into the imago or mature form of the insect. Here the pie containers have undergone metamorphosis to turn into the insect larvae.
This work reflects my interest in the natural world and the environment, as well as my concerns for environmental issues caused by human activity (this being an example of upcycling of consumer waste).
Unstable construction of G clamps
G clamps. 40cm x 40cm x 40cm (variable). 2021.
A sculpture composed of G clamps.
G clamps are usually used for holding work together temporarily, such as when components are being glued together. Here the G clamps are holding on to each other so that they are part of a structure rather than an instrument for creating a structure. The angle of the piece gives the structure a feeling of instability. This could have allusions to the instability of the modern world that we have constructed through our use of industry and technology, where the very means by which we have constructed our world leads to its inherent precariousness, especially now that we are inflicting such serious environmental damage.
Polystyrene packaging. 35cm x 55cm. 2021.
A sculpture fabricated from polystyrene packaging – an example of upcycled art.
Upcycling, or the repurposing of waste or redundant material, is a common phenomenon in art, especially recently since the rise of environmentally orientated art or eco art (and the invention of the word upcycling).
Of course the practice is probably as old as art itself.
I’m sure I’m not the first to notice the sculptural qualities of pieces of polystyrene packaging.
An image of a swarm of ants forming the shape of one giant ant.
The image is intended to convey the scientific concept of the superorganism, where the individual members of an animal community (such as bees, wasps or ants) cannot exist as individuals but have to function as part of a larger unified communal entity.
The work reflects my interest in science, evolution, the natural world and the environment.
Some people argue that human society is a superorganism, generally on the grounds that we live in an incredibly complex society that is full of specialisation of roles, and that society would fall apart if some of these roles were to fail to function. This definition however doesn’t take into account one of the prerequisites of a superorganism, which is that the individual organisms within the superorganism can’t survive alone. Humans can easily survive even if our complex society collapses – there are people all around the world doing that very thing right now.
A video of a dense swarm of flying ants at the top of Zenor Hill, Cornwall.
The 16 second video is extended by repeating and reversing several times.
A swarm of flying ants consists of male ants and virgin queen ants performing their mating ritual. Following this nuptial flight the fertilised queens will dissipate to form new colonies. The males will die.
Art and science – ants as a superorganism
Artist’s impression. January 2020 Based on a digital work from 1990
A proposed art installation or mural showing multiple images of ants crawling across an art gallery wall, with the ants grouping together and coalescing into the form of a single gigantic ant.
The work depicts the concept of the superorganism, in which multiple individual organisms of the same species (in this case ants) interact by a process of synergy to give rise to a collective body that can operate in ways that the individuals can’t. The individual organisms within the superorganism usually display a degree of division of labour, where the individual organisms can’t survive for long on their own. Human civilisation is often defined as a form of superorganism, although this isn’t strictly accurate, as humans can survive alone.
The work has coincidental similarities to House Taken by Rafael Gomezbarros. My concept was formed in the 1990 as a newspaper illustration for the Guardian, while Gomezbarros’s was created in the 2000’s (as far as I can tell).
A sculpture showing how I feel the human race is treating the planet – by putting it into the waste bin.
The sculpture consists of a standard kitchen waste bin, lined internally with black material and with a back-lit image of the earth at its base. The result is the illusion that by looking into the bin you are looking into outer space as though through a porthole in a spacecraft, with the earth floating in the distance.
The kitchen waste bin was deliberately chosen as the reciprocal that contains the earth because of its banality, to emphasise how we are depleting the earth’s resources through mundane consumption.
A version of this work was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2022.I’ve been creating environmental art in one form or another since about 1970.
Giant milk bottle heads
Visualisation of wall mounted sculpture. September 2018
This visualisation is a development of my work in creating human heads from plastic milk bottles.
The heads are vastly over-sized compared to the original plastic milk bottles.
The size of the heads gives them an impressive air, similar to that created by, for example, giant Egyptian sculptural heads. The primitive markings that create the faces are reminiscent of ancient ritualistic statuary. These factors, the ancient and the impressive, give the work a tension due to the mundanity of the objects that are actually represented – discarded plastic milk bottles with fibre tip pen faces drawn on them.
These heads are partly a comment on our throw-away consumer culture. The size of the milk bottles can be taken to represent the size of the problem of consumer waste, especially of one-use consumer waste (such as plastic milk bottles). The faces drawn on the bottles are a reference to the fact that it’s normal people who are generating the waste.
The work reflects my interest in art and the environment (I created my first environmental art in the early 1970s).
A Leaf Changes Colour in Autumn
Leaf, acrylic paint. September 2018
A maple leaf painted blue with red polka dots.
The leaf had fallen from the tree in autumn.
The inspiration for this work came partly from the fact that the leaves on the trees were changing colour in the autumn, prompting me to think of changing their colours in other ways.
In previous years I’ve painted acorns and suchlike in unusual colours.
Like a lot of my work, this work is involved interacting with and responding to the natural environment.
Travelling Glomeris Marginata Video. Lower Rosemorran, Zennor, Cornwall. October 2018
The creature in this video isn’t a woodlouse, it’s a pill millipede, of the species glomeris marginata.
It’s climbing up the outside of a door frame.
I was struck by the way that the millipede seemed to be gliding along its course up the door frame as though hovering slightly above it, as its multitude of legs are concealed. I also like the armour plating, which, along with the hovering, makes the creature look like either a high tech machine or an alien. Or a hybrid of both. The feelers help too.
Cluster flies on a window
Video. 17 sec. Near St Ives, Cornwall. October 2018
When I made this video I assumed that the flies that it features were house flies that had been feasting on a rotting animal carcass concealed somewhere within the walls of the building. The sinisterness of the insects was intended to be a feature of the video.
Since then a bit of research has informed me that the insects were in fact harmless cluster flies (pollenia rudis).
Cluster flies enter buildings on autumn evenings in search of shelter from the worsening weather conditions. Then the following day they sometimes want to get out again, as in the video.
They may enter buildings in small numbers or they may enter in thousands. In the case in the video it was many many hundreds.
The flies live in the countryside, where their larvae feeding on earthworms. They aren’t a health hazard (as far as I know).
Knowing that the flies were harmless and had entered the building seeking shelter rather than being house flies fresh from a rotting corpse in the attic altered my view of them considerably, and I now rather like them, at least on the video. They are an inconvenience though.
I particularly like the way that the flies in the video are moving in an almost choreographed manner. It’s like a little piece of performance art.
The nice calm view out of the window (apart from a bit of wind) is in stark contrast to the dynamic motion of the flies on the window pane.
Slightly unsettling heads created from empty plastic milk bottles.
Like many artists I have a habit of collecting waste and recycling it into works of art.
The slightly sinister appearance of these heads, drawn as they are on post-consumer waste in the form of discarded plastic milk bottles, can be interpreted as a comment on the fact that we as humans are destroying the environment through (amongst other things) our profligate use of plastic packaging (I’ve been producinng work connserned with environmental issues since the 1970s).
The fact that the heads also resemble the type of craft-play objects produced by children can be interpreted as alluding to the western world’s current tendency towards a philosophy of consequence-denying pleasure seeking in which the adults in society fail to take responsibility for their actions beyond immediate self-gratification.
Ink, gouache, digital, paper. 28 x 19cm. July 2018
This image, like many images that I’ve created recently (mid 2018) is a work that is largely generated from my imagination. Having said that, the original inspiration for the crescent-like form was a piece of toast crust.
The work contains definite ominous overtones. These are probably linked to the general atmosphere of foreboding that seems to permiate society at the moment (manifesting itself in such things as the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the swing of many European countries to the right). On top of this the phenomenon of global warming threatens to disrupt the earth’s entire ecosystem and to overturn all civilisation as we know it. Things have only just started to get bad.
The prime source of the foreboding in this work is indeed climate change and the fear of a devastated planet. The imaginary object in the image bears some resemblance to an organic form, possibly a part of an animal’s anatomy – perhaps a horn or a jawbone. The slender forms that protrude from what may be the teeth of a jawbone could possibly be legs, turning the form into something like an upturned crustacean. Whatever it is, the object has the feel of a decaying life-form. The object also has something of the feel of an unnatural artefact – perhaps a piece of rubble following the destruction of a building (with the slender forms representing metal rods in reinforced concrete).
Whatever it is, the object is abandoned or marooned on a featureless plain that probably represents the devastated earth following the ravages of climate change. The fact that the object looks very large is probably symbolic of the enormity of the threat that climate change represents.
Having said all that, the work was not created with any particular symbolism or meaning consciously in mind. I’ve worked backwards from the finished image to find its possible meaning. I’m sure that it also has meanings that are purely to do with the workings of my own brain.
Dog Walk: dog poo bags
Plastic bags arranged on path. Unspecified contents. Video. Cornwall. June 2018
A video of an art installation in the countryside that comments on the behaviour of some dog walkers.
The work features an avenue of discarded dog pooh bags.
The work was inspired by the experience of going on many walks in the countryside and coming across discarded black plastic dog poo bags: sometimes hidden, sometimes in full view. There’s a theory that the dog owners leave them there to be picked up on their return, however, many of them don’t do it.
The work was created near St Ives, Cornwall.
Update, 2021. This work has taken on more relevance since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, as more people purchase more dogs, which in turn produce more excrement. The fact that some of the new dog owners are quite casual in their ownership responsibilities is reflected in a marked increase of discarded dog poo bags.
Photograph with digital drawing, September 2018
A photograph of a natural granite rock formation with a drawing of a fin-like object added to the photograph as though it is attached to the rock.
The rock formation in the photograph is on the Penwith peninsula in west Cornwall, a few miles from St Ives. The large rock on which the fin is drawn is a rocking stone, known locally as a Logan stone. The stone is said to move slightly when pushed correctly.
The image is a finished artwork, despite the fact that it resembles a concept study for a sculpture in the landscape. The drawing of the fin is deliberately inconsistent in terms of photographic realism with the rest of the image.
Having said that, the development of the concept as a sculpture is a possibility.
A photomontage of a concept for a sculpture in the landscape.
The landscape in the photograph is the Penwith peninsula in west Cornwall.
The hammers are meant to project a sense of overbearing force, the fact that there are several of them possibly implying organised force (such as military force). Hammers, to me, have a certain anthropomorphic quality to them, suggesting a degree of human identity – a long thin body with a head at the top. The blank facelessness of the heads of the hammers in this image suggest a mindless power.