• Numbers as symbols – and the perception of form

    A study in numbers as symbols

    Video. 2024

    A video of a 30mph speed limit road sign with the number 30 rotating within the circular sign. The figure 30 in the sign has been animated digitally.

    This concept occurred to me spontaneously when I looked at the sign (Having said that, I’ve walked past this sign many times over the past few decades and the idea has never occured to me before – more on that later). The sign is in Market Drayton, Shropshire, where I grew up.

    One of the points that the video is hopefully making is about the nature of the shapes of numbers (and by association, of letters too). I’m interested in the fact that the shapes of numbers (and letters) are to a large extent random. You can understand why the number one is represented by the shape 1, which is essentially the simplest possible mark that can be made to represent the presence of something, and why zero is represented by 0, which is possibly a symbol that visualises an empty space. But why is 4 the shape that it is, or 5,6,7,8,9?

    Bearing this interest in the shapes of numbers in mind, one of the features of the video is way that it emphasises the changing shape of the numbers as they rotate. When the 3 and the 0 are on their sides they no longer look like the number 30 viewed sideways but as distinctly different shapes – especially the 3. The 3 stops being a 3 and starts becoming a mysterious symbol. This phenomenon works particularly well with the numbers 3 and 0 because the shapes of these numbers are more or less symmetrical about a horizontal axis through their centres. It wouldn’t work so well with, say, the number 47, where the brain would probably have a lot more difficulty seeing the digits as nothing other than the 4 and the 7 at unusual angles.

    perception of form and numbers as symbols

    perception of form and numbers as symbols 2
  • Seeing the world from an unusual angle

    On the escalator. Seeing the world from an unusual angle.

    Video.   45 seconds. May 2023

    A video of people going down an down escalator at a London Underground station. I was going up the up escalator.

    The video was shot at an angle so that the sloping architecture of the escalator occupied the horizontal plane in the video.

    One of the metaphorical points of the video is the idea of looking at the world from unusual angles as a way of getting away from conventional ways of thinking and of conventional perception. It’s also quite humorous, which is something I often strive for.

    seeing the world from an unusual angle

    Tilting the world to unusual angles is a concept I’ve pursued multiple times. An early example was in the early 1970s when I toyed with the idea of writing a short story about an isolated community that lived in a town half way up a very steep hill. The hill was so big that the people couldn’t see the top or the bottom, so they didn’t realise that they actually lived on a slope. All they knew was that there was a strange force (gravity) that meant that objects were only stable when they were at a particular angle to the ground and orientated in a particular direction. And that walking towards one side of town (uphill) was quite hard work, while walking in the opposite direction (downhill) was easy.

  • Environmental art

    Contemporary environmental art sculpture

    Environmental art – Earth Bin

    Contemporary art sculpture/installation. January 2017

    I’ve been creating environmental art in one form or another since about 1970. This work is a development of a previous work from the late 1980s.

    The work is a sculpture showing how I feel the human race is treating the environment – by putting the planet into the rubbish bin.
    The sculpture consists of a standard kitchen waste bin, lined internally with very matte 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. It’s surprisingly effective.
    The kitchen waste bin was deliberately chosen as the reciprocal that contains the earth because of its banality, to emphasise how we are causing environmental damage by depleting the earth’s resources through mundane consumption.

    A version of this work was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2022 and was exhibited in my solo show at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall, the same year.

    contemporary environmental art sculpture
    environmental art sculpture
  • Sunshine and Shadows.

    Sunshine and Shadows.

    Video.   30 sec. May 2018

    A video of the sun creating complex patterns on the ground.

    The video was shot in the gardens of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, UK. The shadows are created by the branches of a pleached lime walk and the structure that is supporting it.

    The video points to, amongst other things, the concept that the earth is connected to the sun in complex ways, with the sun creating the intricate patterns of life on earth (here portrayed by the complex patterns in the shadows of the branches). The fact that the pleached lime hedge is partly a work of artifice emphasises the link between the human race and the natural world (here portrayed by the shadows of the hedge’s supporting structure).

  • Environmental art – Earth in a Builder’s Skip II

    Environmental art. The Earth in a builder’s skip

    Video (1min 1sec). November 2023

    A video camera moves towards a builder’s skip and travels through a hole in the tarpaulin that covers the skip to reveal the contents of the skip.

    The contents are seen to be a view of outer space with planet Earth suspended or floating in it. The builder’s skip may be thought of as a portal to another dimension.

    A meaning of the artwork is that the Earth has been reduced to the rubble and rubbish that is disposed of in builder’s skips or dumpsters, which are primarily designed to hold the debris and waste from construction projects and demolition projects. The work is a critique of our disposable consumer society and the environmental crisis that we are currently living through. In the area of London in which I live there are frequently builder’s skips positioned on the road in front of houses as the owners rip out perfectly good kitchens and replace them with new kitchens. It’s happening just a few doors away right now.

    contemporary environmental art - planet earth in a builder's skip
    A video still from the Earth in a Builder’s Skip video.
  • Angels and birds – flight and freedom

    Angels and birds – flight and freedom

    Video.  2min 56sec. November 2018

    A video about freedom and its opposite: limitation or confinement.
    Freedom is expressed by the unconfined wheeling and soaring flight of the crows. Limitation is symbolised by the inert, motionless statue of an angel around which the crows are flying.
    Pathos is a major ingredient of the work, because both the birds and the statue have wings, but only the birds can fly.
    The unconstrained flight of the birds only serves to emphasise the fact that the statue of the angel is rooted to the spot.
    The work is a comment on the desire of the creators of the statue (us) to have the power of natural flight, and their obvious inability to have it.

    The statue is on Alexandra Palace in north London.

    Moving image contemporary art angel and birds – flight and freedom
    An earth-bound angel and flying birds – a photomontage based on the video above.
  • Travelling Glomeris Marginata

    Travelling Glomeris Marginata

    Video. 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.

  • Environmental art – umbrella clinging to a rock like a limpet, Cornwall

    contemporary art in the environment - umbrella, land art, Cornwall

    Art in the environment: Limpet

    Art in the environment: umbrella, granite rocks. 1st September 2018

    A work of environmental art consisting of an umbrella clinging to a granite rock on a misty hilltop in Cornwall.

    contemporary land art Cornwall - umbrella attached to a rock

    The umbrella in this work of contemporary environmental art or land art can be seen as representing shelter. Perhaps it’s shelter from bad weather caused by climate change or global warming. Umbrellas after all are primarily designed to provide shelter from the weather. The shelter provided by the umbrella in the face of climate change is however woefully inadequate. An umbrella after all is a very flimsy structure.

  • Umbrella clinging to rocks

    contemporary art in the environment - umbrella, land art, Cornwall

    Art in the environment:    Limpet

    Umbrella, granite rocks. Zennor Hill, Cornwall     1st September 2018

    A work of art in the environment consisting of an umbrella clinging to a granite rock on a windy and misty hilltop in Cornwall.

    The umbrella in this work can be seen as representing shelter. Perhaps it’s shelter from bad weather caused by climate change or global warming. The shelter provided by an umbrella in the face of climate change is however woefully inadequate. The flimsy structure of the umbrella can be seen as echoing humanity’s flimsy attempts to counter climate change.

  • Dog Walk: art installation composed of dog poo bags

    Dog Walk: dog poo bags

    Plastic bags arranged on path. Unspecified contents. Video. Cornwall. June 2018

    A video of an environmental 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 about their ownership responsibilities is reflected in a marked increase of discarded dog poo bags.

    Contemporary art dog poo installation

    The image above shows a related dog poo installation in an art gallery (visualisation).

  • Land art – buttercup field with hidden object

    Land art – Buttercup Field, Rosemorran, Zennor

    Video. 27sec

    A video of a field of buttercups that contains a hard-to-see object near the centre-left.
    The object is revealed at the end of the video.
    The video is on a recurring theme in my work – an investigation into perception, reality and illusion.
    The video was taken behind my house at Lower Rosemorran, Zennor, in Cornwall.

    Spoiler alert – the nature of the object in the video is revealed in the next section.
    The scene in the video contains, on the ground amongst the grass and buttercups, a square mirror. The mirror is hard to see partly because of the distracting proliferation of buttercups, but mostly because the mirror is positioned so that the light from the sky doesn’t create give-away shadows or highlights (buttercups that are reflected in the mirror can look abnormally lit compared with the rest of the buttercups if the angle of the light is incorrect).

    Below is a photograph of the wider field in which the work took place.

    contemporary art video mirror perception illusion

    The work is filmed in an almost cliched, very peaceful and calming field full of spring flowers, which to me makes a nice setting for a work that at its most pretentious can be interpreted as being a prompt for questioning the nature of reality. At its least pretentious however, it’s just a nice visual joke.
    Mirrors and reflections have been a common features of my work for many years, with the first probably being this artistic experiment from about 1970.

  • Metamorphosis of a Human Hand into an Alien Life-form


    Video. March 2018

    This video shows the way in which familiar objects can become disconcertedly unfamiliar and alien by removing them from their normal context.

    It shows a video of a hand in which the video is split and flipped as a mirror image in order to create a strikingly bizarre image resembling an unsettling and disturbing alien creature.
    The video is an attempt to highlight the way that even the things that we treat as totally normal and mundane are in fact full of strangeness and wonder.
    By using the very simple mirror image technique I’ve made something that’s as ridiculously familiar to us as our hands look ridiculously alien and disconcerting. Who’d have thought that you had such strange alien things stuck on the ends of your arms?

    contemporary art - metamorphosis of a hand to become alien by reflection
  • Study of the motion of water ejected from a hose spray head in pulses

    Study of the motion of water ejected from a hose spray head

    Video.    11 seconds

    A very short video capturing the motion of water as it is ejected in pulses from a conventional garden hose spray nozzle with the head set to different spray modes.
    The brevity of the water pulses makes it possible to see patterns in the spray that are normally concealed or are absent when the water is ejected as a constant flow.

    Water art installation or fountain study - water ejected in pulses from a hose nozzle
    A still from the video, showing the pattern created as a result of the pulsing effect

    This phenomenon is possibly a good starting point for a fountain or other water-based art installation.