The perception of pattern – join the dots

contemporary art and science - intricate pattern perception from dots

I’ve just created this image this morning, inspired by a book that I bought a couple of days ago at the Wellcome Collection (an exhibition space that merges art and science, and a place that I strongly recommend a visit to if you’re in London). The book is Art Forms in Nature, which depicts the astonishing drawings of German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1918).
The edition of the book that I purchased (Prestel, 1998) has an introduction that includes a diagram by David Marr (1945-1980), a British neuroscientist who worked extensively in the field of visual processing.
The David Marr image, shown below, was concerned with the way in which the human eye (and brain) will scan images seeking out understandable patterns. The image (which I’d never seen before as far as I remember) reminded me very much of some of the images that I’ve produced myself, both in its form (arrays of dots) and intension (the generation of ambiguously decipherable interlocking patterns).

David Marr visual processing dot pattern
(Image reprinted courtesy of The MIT Press from Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information by David Marr, ©MIT 2010, figure 2-5, page 50)

Naturally I was inspired to deconstruct the David Marr image so that I could then try to create my own images based on what I found. The image at the top of this post is the first result.
After studying David Marr’s image I worked out that a simplified version of it could be constructed from multiple versions of the basic element shown below, with each element placed at an equal distance from the adjacent elements.

contemporary art science pattern perception

I call this image a basic element, but that’s slightly inaccurate.

When you look at this element you probably see a centre dot surrounded by a ring of dots with lines of dots radiating outwards like rays.
However, this ‘basic element’ isn’t really a basic element at all, because I created it from an even more basic element, this being a row of thirty three dots in a straight line. Six copies of this row of dots were then distributed about their centres in a clock face fashion.  See the image below. So in some ways the element in the image above isn’t really a ring surrounded by rays at all – it’s actually a set of six lines of dots.

pattern perception in visual processing

Just one more thing.
When you look at the element above you see a clearly defined inner ring of dots and probably a less obvious secondary ring of dots created by the innermost dots of the rays. These ‘innermost dots of the rays’ are only ‘innermost dots’ if you choose to define the dots that are closer to the centre of the figure as a separate entity (a ring). In truth all of the dots in the image have the same status (other than that of their position), all being simply dots in lines, it’s just that the ones closest to the centre most easily form a ring when interpreted by our brains. Our brains can interpret the second set of dots as a secondary ring because you can, when you concentrate slightly, see that they are linked into this formation by association with their neighbours, although more loosely  than is the case with the emphatic inner ring.  What you won’t notice though is that the next set of dots outwards also form a ring, as do the next set and the next set all the way out to the end of the rows of dots. You can’t see this because for all of the dots beyond the secondary ring the dots are too well separated for the eye to associate them with each other. Somewhere in the space between the secondary ring of dots and the next dots outwards a threshold is crossed at which the brain can’t hold the dots together as a ring – the association is snapped.

It’s interesting that this post was intended to be about the relatively complex image at the top of the post, but I’ve spent most of my time dissecting the simpler image of the underlying element.  Fortunately, the points that I’ve made about the underlying element are exactly the points that can be applied to the more complex image, and thankfully without the excessively complex structures within the complex image conspiring to befuddle the brain.

Apple ‘brand identity animation’ with a similar feel to my own animations

I was interested to see during a shopping trip into London today that the current ‘branding animation’ that is running on all of the Apple computers on show in a department store that I visited had something of the look and feel of some of my own animations (shown below).
This is probably a coincidence. I can’t imagine that the designers in Apple’s branding department were trawling the internet and happened to come across my work. And then chose to adopt some of its style. Although you never know. They have to keep their fingers on the pulse after all – although I’m not sure how on the pulse my videos are, as the video that the Apple animation most resembles is several years now.
The Apple animation, which I can’t find on the internet, and therefore can’t point you towards, features the leaf on the Apple logo detaching itself and replicating itself to form a rotating circle composed of multiple copies of itself, changing size and colour but always retaining a degree of graphic simplicity.
The animation sequence to me had something of the feel of of mine. Of course it may only be me who sees any resemblance, due to my heightened sensitivity towards the design factors of the work I created. My work uses circles rather than leaf-shaped lozenges, my circles interact where they overlay while Apple’s simply overlay, and mine are different colours, but that’s not much of a difference in my book.
Assuming that there IS a resemblance of some sort I’m not sure whether to be pleased that a company of Apple’s status is using a similar style to mine, and thus validating it, or be annoyed that a company of Apple’s status is using a similar style to mine, as people would inevitably say “Your animation’s inspired by Apple’s, isn’t it?”.

A longer version of this animation, with more variation in the movement, can be seen here: Animation

Shoe reflected in a mirror – the art of illusion

mirror based art - a shoe reflected in a mirror

This is a version of a piece of art that I’m working on, based on a pair of shoes and a mirror. The shoes are positioned so that the reflection of each in the mirror coincides exactly with the other shoe on the opposite side of the mirror, merging the real shoe and the reflection of the other shoe into one.
Like a lot of my works that involve illusion this one explores the line between reality and our interpretation of what we perceive.

Spontaneous watercolour sketch

Contemporary art watercolour sketch - spontaneous painting from the unconscious

This watercolour sketch was an exercise in creating something without any preconceived idea about what I was about to create.
It turns our to be a slightly sinister landscape, in the centre of which there is something that may or may not be a living entity. Originally this object looked more like a strangely shaped rock, but the addition of colour to it removed it from the rest of the landscape and turned it into something separate from the landscape. The blue dot in the image, which is just a circle of coloured paper placed on the image, gives the possibly living entity an air of sentience, as it seems to be contemplating a strange sun in the sky.

Dog poo bag discarded in art gallery

contemporary art - dog poop art

This is a piece of art that I created recently that’s inspired by frequent unpleasant encounters with dog poo bags while out on walks in the countryside.

On one walk along a popular track up a mountain in Wales last year the poop bags were so frequent that they inspired me to  conceive of the idea of a path lined with an avenue of poop bags. I’m looking out for a suitable venue.

For the work in these photos it was a small step to move a single bag from the countryside to the art gallery. The question is, is it a real dog poo bag or not? All that I can say is that it’s described as being ‘mixed media’.

contemporary art - dog shit art

Contemporary art and science – visualising ripples in the fabric of reality.

contemporary art and science - visualising form generated from formless states
The image above is an example of work from a series that I created specifically to explore concepts from the worlds of science and philosophy.
The original motivation behind the work was a wish to devise a visual means of expressing the concept that our incredibly complex universe is generated from the interaction of extremely simple fundamental forces that underlie the cosmos.

The image explores the generation of complex forms from simple forms. The image is composed of two identical grids of regularly spaced small circles, with one of the grids positioned one above the other and rotated so that the arrangement of circles on the two grids are at different angles to each other, meaning that they overlap.

A simple algorithm is applied to the overlapping grids that dictates that where the black areas of the circles overlap the blacks cancel each other out, effectively leaving white.  See the two examples below, showing differing amounts of overlap.

how the algorithm works

The two simple overlapping grids of circles generate surprisingly complex patterns, forming multiple and various interacting rings, some of which are obvious while others are fugitive and seem to come in and out of existence as your eye scans the image.

 

contemporary art in the exploration of science

What’s more, when the two grids are rotated relative to each other the whole formation of rings and patterns shifts and changes as the grids alter their positions relative to each other. See how the patterns in the image below aren’t the same as those in the image at the top.

contemporary art in the exploration of science

 

The square grid in the image  is a metaphor for the deepest, most fundamental and basic level of the physical universe, where nothing exists other than the simplest of all possible fluctuations in ‘nothingness’ itself (represented by the uniform circles).

Complexity and structure come into existence when this  basic level of the physical universe – the grid of circles – interacts with itself, creating intricate forms that contain a new and complex internal structure. It is this complex internal structure that then gives rise to even more complex structures within the universe,  for instance giving form to the elementary particles that act as the building blocks of the universe that we’re familiar with (while also giving form to the parts of the universe that we’ve got no inkling about, too) .

I like to think of the patterns in the images as metaphors for ripples in the fabric of reality.

There are several more examples of my work in this field, including more videos of rotating grids here.

The videos show the shifting and transient nature of the complex patterns very well, expressing, I like to think, the way that structure in physical reality “pops” in and out of existence.

Umbrellas in contemporary art

contemporary art drawing - umbrella sculpture sketch
A sketch of an idea for a sculpture, showing an umbrella mounted at the top of a conical structure that has short filaments protruding from it.
I have a fascination with umbrellas for some reason. I think it’s possibly due to a mixture of their slightly Heath Robinsonesque mechanical structure – the hinged flexible rods that are levered outwards to support a stretched fabric cover – and their pleasing form when in the open position. Not to mention their practicality. And the fact that they are, despite their mechanical intricacy, very much taken for granted and dismissed as objects of great mundanity.
My first ever published image was an absurdist redesign of the umbrella, published in the Sunday Times in about 1974.

Environmental art – planet earth in a kitchen waste bin

This is a visualisation of a concept that I’m thinking of developing into a piece of finished artwork.
It’s a form of environmental sculpture.
The work will consist of a conventional domestic rubbish bin with a black bin liner inside it.

environmental art - earth in a rubbish bin sculpture
From most angles (as in the image on the left, above) the bin will look like any conventional bin: however when viewed from close up at the front (the image on the right, above) the observer will see that looking inside of the bin the blackness of the bin liner gives the impression of a dark void within the bin. Visible in the void will be a glowing representation of the earth. The effect will be of the earth suspended in the vastness of outer space. The bin will appear almost to be a portal to another dimension.
The idea of a mundane rubbish bin containing a portal into outer space is very appealing.
I haven’t yet decided how the representation of the earth in the bin should be realised. It could be a dimly glowing globe or it could be a digital display on a screen positioned near the base of the bin.
The work is an environmental statement and carries an obvious message – that at the human race’s current rate of consumption of the earth’s resources we are treating the earth with contempt and are effectively placing the planet itself in the rubbish bin. The message is obvious because there is no time for subtlety here! Think of it as the sculptural equivalent of an environmental campaign poster.
The work is a development of a concept that I had in about the year 2000, when I produced several drawings of the earth falling into a wastepaper basket. The sculptural potential of using a real rubbish bin to create an illusion of outer space is a more recent development.
The emotional impact of seeing the earth floating in the black void of space inside the bin refers to some extent to the iconic photographs of the earth as seen from space as photographed by the astronauts in the Apollo moon missions.

Work created January 2017, Cornwall.

Shoes with teeth

surrealist shoes with mouths and teeth

Shoes with teeth: January 2017

A study for a surreal work composed of a pair of shoes with mouths and teeth. The teeth in this study were added digitally.
The shoes were chosen partly because the holes at the toe end give the impression of eyes.
An unsettling aspect of this concept is that it is normal for a person to put their feet into shoes – however these particular shoes look as though they would devour anything that was placed in their ‘mouths’. They are almost lying in wait for feet to be placed inside them.
This work may be interpreted as being a metaphor for the manner in which consumerism devours people (especially clothing and fashion consumerism).

Drawing Machine – a barograph repurposed for the purposes of art

Dada or surrealist sculpture - a barograph creating a drawing

Drawing machine. Barograph, ink. January 2017

A work composed of a barograph, the arm of which is creating a fine pen and ink drawing of a landscape.
A barograph normally draws a graph recording air pressure over the course of time on a sheet of graph paper attached to a rotating drum.
This barograph is in the spirit of surrealism and dada – it is a scientific instrument appropriated for the purposes of art (In C P Snow’s two cultures thesis this would count as cultural appropriation).

Art and science – String Theory with nylon cord and mirrors

Art and science -infinity mirror effect resembling high energy physics experiment

String Theory: Mirrors, cord and light source: January 2017: width 30cm height 30cm

A study for a work composed of mirrors that are configured so that they create reflections round a symmetrical axis and also create reflections in infinite regression.
The reflected object in this work is a single short length of coloured cord (about 40cm long). The cord is brightly coloured and is lit by a directional light source which gives the cord the effect of being a pulsating energy stream in a containment vessel, perhaps in a high energy physics laboratory.

Shoes with mirror image

contemporary art shoes -mirror reflection - humorous

Shoes with mirror image: January 2013

A pair of shoes and a mirror, with the shoes positioned so that the reflection of the shoe in the mirror coincides exactly with the other shoe on the opposite side of the mirror, thus merging the real shoe with the reflection of the other shoe.
Like a lot of my works that involve illusion this one explores the line between reality and our interpretation of what we perceive.

Odd shoes reflected in a mirror

Humorous contemporary art - a mirror with the reflection of a shoe

Odd shoes reflected in a mirror: January 2013

Part of a series of works involving the reflection of shoes in a mirror, with the shoes positioned so that the reflection of each shoe in the mirror coincides exactly with the other shoe on the opposite side of the mirror.
In this work the shoes involved are not a pair.
This creates a double dissonance in the viewer. Firstly the viewer has to interpret the fact that the reflected part of the shoe is not part of the other shoe, and secondly the viewer has to interpret the fact that the two shoes are different (with the degree of difference varying depending on the position of the viewer and thus the amount of the shoe that is behind the mirror that is visible).
Like a lot of my works that involve mirrors and reflections this one explores the line between reality and our interpretation of what we perceive.

Mirror based art with reflections of screws

Mirror based contemporary art with screws

Mirrors and screws: March 2017

A study of reflections using mundane everyday objects to create interesting formations.
Here ordinary hardware screws are arranged to form a dynamic expansive configuration.
Screws lend themselves to this study partly because of their physically dynamic shape – large at one end and then tapering away at the other – and partly because of their intended purpose, which is to hold things in place – the exact opposite of dynamic expansiveness – which brings a slight touch of paradox to the work.
Anyone looking at the image who feels that I ought to have lined up the screw heads – it’s a deliberate act not to have aligned them, even though in real life I am an obsessive screw head aligner.

Contemporary art - mirrors reflecting objects to give optical illusion effect

Contemporary art: mirrors + multiple reflections = illusions.

An example of one of my projects in the field of contemporary art exploring mirrors, reflections and illusions, here using a piece of cord that is reflected multiple times to give the impression of a closed circle.

contemporary art mirrors and multiple reflection illusion

This work consists of three mirrors creating a triangular box with the reflective surfaces facing inwards. The box is placed over a length of brightly coloured meandering paracord. The cord is laid so that the section that lies inside the triangular box is reflected on the box’s sides to give the illusion of forming a circle. The second photo shows the piece from a different angle to show the structure.

mirrors and illusion

mirrors and illusion

Metamorphosis of a hand into a sinister life-form by multiple reflection

contemporary art - metamorphosis of a hand into sinister alien life-forms by reflection

Metamorphosis
Mirrors and hand. October 2016

Three mirrors forming the vertical sides of a triangular box turn a hand into an alien creature. The hand is intruding into the box through an opening in the corner.
An exploration of how a familiar object (a hand) can be transformed into something completely alien purely by the use of simple mirrors.
A study of the familiar becoming unfamiliar via a mundane agency.

Contemporary art exploring reality and illusion using reflections in mirror

Dandelion seeds and anthropomorphism

contemporary art drawing - anthropomorphism in dandelion seed

Anthropomorphic dandelion seeds: Pen and ink sketch: September 2015

A dandelion seed head in which the seeds have human form.
The image is disturbingly ambiguous. Is the fact that one of the seeds is drifting away from the seed head a sign of freedom or simply a sign of fate? It also looks as though it may be a suicide attempt (although the ‘parachute’ would prevent It being successful). And what can be read into the fact that the humans in the anthropomorphic seeds have no heads?

Contemporary art and climate change – pollution

contemporary art and climate change - pollution and breathing equipment

Breathing on a polluted planet. Digital image. First version: 1991; this version: 2015

A work concerning climate change and pollution.
This work is created in a cartoon-like style. There are several reasons for this. One is that I create quite a lot of cartoons (which have been published in newspapers such as the Guardian and magazines such as Private Eye), and another is that I think that the cartoon style is a particularly good way of communicating about subjects such as global warming, pollution and the various crises that are currently afflicting our planet. One of the appeals of the cartoon art style is that it generally lacks ambiguity, so its message is clear and unmistakable, which is very important with subjects that are as important and clear-cut as climate change.
Other contemporary art styles on the other hand tend to thrive when they contain a degree of uncertainty in what is being said, requiring the viewer to interpret the work as they see fit. Contemporary art that puts forward a message unambiguously can often tend to come across as rather dead, didactic and hectoring.
Also of course, cartoon art, due to its nature, can easily be reproduced in print or electronically without loss of quality (both physical quality and emotional quality), thus making it available to a much wider audience than most contemporary art – which can only be a good thing when the work tackles an important subject as climate change.

contemporary art and climate change - pollution and breathing equipment