Monday, November 11, 2013

The Beginning Of Everything Oil on linen 90 x 180c m 2010
During the week I read an interesting article Science and Art: How Astronomical Artists Look At Nature by well known American space artist William K Hartmann who also happens to have a B.Sc [physics], M.Sc [geology] and  [PhD [astronomy]. The an article is essentially about knowing landscape.
He starts the article, People often ask me — and I often ask myself — is there an interplay between my planetary science research and my painting? Does my interest in painting affect the way I do science? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes, but it’s hard to explain why, even to myself! He then goes on to try to explain that there are various ways of “knowing.” He continues, So there’s a kind of knowledge that I call “body knowledge” that comes from bodily and visual experience, as well as a “mind knowledge” that comes from traditional scientific activities such as quantitative data analysis, numerical modeling, classifying and breaking natural phenomena into constituent aspects.

Hartmann suggests that the knowledge he gains as an artist, observing and painting landscape, helps him as a scientist observing and scrutinising imagery sent back to Earth by satellites and probes. He writes that as a scientist working with the Mariner 9, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express imaging teams the body knowledge seemed to provide a different “starting point” for analysis than the theoretical considerations of my colleagues.

I am not a scientist, but I have scientists in my family. And as regular readers know, I have a keen interest in science. My two brothers both have science degrees, one in computing and the other in physics [lighting: M.Sc]. Yet, both are also artists. One is a photographer and the other a musician and lighting designer. I've seen how mind knowledge and body knowledge, across and between science and art, play and interact with each other.

I resonate with Hartmann's description of body knowledge as if in the process of repeated and consistent observation of landscape, it ultimately enters your body as a knowing... I would go further to suggest that it perhaps returns to, or re-enters the body, as a kind of remembering...of star dust.
Returning Oil on linen 50 x 94 cm 2012

This takes me to an experience I had only a few days ago. I participated in a Shaman's walk lead by an old friend Heather Price. A group of eight women shared four hours of reflection which included a walk along one of the paths at Mt Cootha here in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Without going into too much detail the walk was an activity of deep observation ie: observing nature and then observing our reactions to particular elements of it, followed by investigations of possible meaning and metaphor. This process takes you from being simply an observer to being a participant in, as well a partner with, nature. Observation at many levels induces a quiet kind of absorption into the cycles of life that nature represents so beautifully. My experience with Heather and the other women was that of a kind of returning to, and a remembering of, the beginning of all life...the Universal landscape. For me as an artist, it was pure inspiration. For me, as a person, it was a perfect reminder.
Observation, for an artist, can simply be about taking note of how things look, but it can be so much more than this. All kinds of observation, from how things look, to observing one's own emotional and intellectual reactions, to sensing vibrations, noticing sounds and movement and 'seeing' links between everything, all manifest into a kind of knowing that enters the body...or...perhaps re-enters the body. As Hartmann says, In any case, as I’ve come to know the history and community of landscape painters, I’ve been impressed that they have absorbed all sorts of knowledge from nature that physical scientists do no yet know, or do not even study.
I painted The Wind Oil on linen 80 x 120 cm 2001
Landscape is an integral part of humanity's experience of life. It orientates us, feeds us, provides energy for us, induces awe, challenges us and gives us a place to call 'home'. It can embrace us and it can also annihilate us, and at both extremes, and in the spaces in between there are reminders that we are part of the body of landscape. We are never really separate from it. Indeed, when we die it enfolds us as we return to dust. At some time in the far distant future Earth will also return to star dust, as a result of our Sun's death throes.  
This takes me to a point I have written about a lot...that concepts of landscape need to be untethered from Earth-bound horizons, because whilst Earth maybe our home, the Universe is our environment. Landscape reminds us that we come from the same star dust that created the planets and the Universe...we are landscape too!
Cosmic Dust Oil on linen 120 x 160 cm 2010

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