So many of the early constellations were named for, or inspired thoughts of, the deities. Mulling over that idea, I couldn’t help but wonder which gods were missed? or forgotten? and where were they? I considered that they might be hidden behind a reflection nebula, and that if I could look around the edge I might just find them. It worked! An entire arc of lessor gods twinkling their little hearts out. Enjoy!
Origins, it might mean where we come from, or refer to our brain formulating an idea, or maybe the way our imagination can enable both fact and fantasy – that glimpse of the possible that so excites us. With this painting, I am exploring all of the above. We are part of the cosmos, our universal home, and we are looking at stars, organizing them in a very human way. On the left side of the painting, I’ve included a graphic representation of synapse connections – the origin of imaginative thought (and an interesting visual parallel to the constellations).
The oil painting In the Vicinity of the Lotus Nebula is both real and imaginary. The painting is inspired by photographs from the Hubble telescope, but with a strong element of artistic license. The Rosette Nebula was the direct inspiration, with its opening flower form and red tones. But I started the painting with dark blue greens, and because I rely on chance-filled monoprint techniques for the initial gestures, my rose became a lotus – appropriate since my last painting was dedicated to Ravi Shankar, the great Indian musician of the sitar, and master of musical meditation. So here we are again, with Ravi in this light-filled corner of the cosmos, meditating, and perhaps entertaining the idea of naming the constellations we just happened to find here. Enjoy!
Below are enlargements of parts of the painting.
Technical painting notes – While the painting’s final tones are middle to light in value, the initial layer of paint was a dark blue/black, which was manipulated with mineral spirits, rags, and paper towels to create the basic composition. When this stage was dry, many layers of glaze (both transparent and semi-transparent) were brushed on, and the details of the stars and constellation either highlighted or painted in. The decorative spirals along the left and right sides (symbols of energy and of spiral galaxies) were achieved by removing layers of glaze.
There is a universe everywhere I look, and the deeper I look, the more they all seem to overlap. With that in mind, I present Parallel Universe #1, a painting that collides and overlaps the cosmos with a close-up of turbulent water. Patterns of droplets/patterns of stars, clouds of abstract gas, vapor, and dust – all controlled by gravity and other unseen forces. Why the split? The story is in the technical painting notes below. Enjoy!
Technical painting notes – The painting began in my usual way – dark transparent oil paint was rolled onto the panel with a soft gelatin roller. Mineral spirits were dripped onto the surface, then blotted away, and I used a soft rag to wipe away some lighter areas for the nebula. I then used a plastic bag and mineral spirits to again create textures on the panel. I used the roller (16″ wide) to roll over the these textures, hoping they would lift and roll down in an interesting pattern. Since the roller is only 16″ wide, I had a series of vertical lines, wide on the ends and with a narrow band up the middle. Well…not exactly what I had in mind, but then it was an interesting effect…so I kept the lines. The more I thought about the separate parts, the more they seemed to echo my readings about utilizing chance and transparency.
When the paint layer was dry, I glazed the left side, worked some color into the nebula, and added stars. I then decided to develop the right side as white water, providing stark contrast to the dark cosmos. I used a chip brush and white paint mixed with Liquin medium to create gestures suggestive of turbulent water. I let the panel dry, then taped the edges of the center strip (to protect work done on the sides). I brushed a blue glaze over the center, accentuated the painterly gestures that were already there, and added a spatter of stars.
With the tape removed, I continued to develop the constellations and star patterns on the left, then took a palette knife and more white paint and medium to really exaggerate the turbulence on the right. As I worked the knife, I followed it with a smooth wash brush to soften the edges. A spatter of white paint was added.
The final steps were connecting a few more drips to form partial constellations – nature is always becoming, never at rest, lastly I added the fine violet and rose lines that help to define the center “strips.”
By the way, can you guess the name of the largest constellation? Or do you have a suggestion?
We often think in dualities, hard/soft, hot/cold, etc. This new pair of paintings explores one place but at different times – By Day and By Night. Both paintings present a breaking wave – the first painting, By Day, uses the spiral, symbol of energy going out and returning, as a decorative transparent border along the bottom of the painting. A close-up of the distant waves is below:
By Night, with its stars and constellations, explores a different sense of distance and energy. Again, there is the energy of a breaking wave, but this time it is contrasted with the great distance s of space. At the same time, the droplets of water find their echo in the stars. Near/far, day/night. One doesn’t exist apart from the other. Both are in a state of becoming…..Below are close-ups of By Night. Enjoy!
Chagall often painted the fabled cow flying over the moon, but as a child, I loved that story decades before being aware of Chagall’s interpretations. Maybe I pictured my own family’s cow levitating (surely an odd sight!), or the herds of cows from dairies surrounding my home all leaping over the moon and landing in the local pond with a big splash, scaring all the horned pout. Whatever the sources were for this painting, the key consideration for me is: so where did the cow end up, and what did she look like when she arrived?
One answer is my newest painting from the Cosmos Series, On Finding the Bovine Constellation. If the cow managed to successfully fly over the moon and not fall back to earth, then she must have achieved escape velocity. The physics of that achievement doesn’t concern me as much as where did she go? In my imagination she’s been flying for a long time, perhaps well beyond our part of the solar system. She may have transformed into a constellation, and if so, would she be known as the Bovine Constellation? I think my own brown and white Miss Bossy would have liked that outcome. Do you see her, in the upper left of the painting, heading toward two galaxies? An enlarged detail is below. Ciao!
This expansive view deep into the night sky, with its reflection nebula, clusters of stars, and possible constellations, is also a look into the deeper recesses of the mind. How did it evolve? The painting began with an imaginary nebula – From the Fringe of Certainty – and remained just that for several months. I knew it wanted to be more, and pondered the problem of where the painting should go – what could I add to deepen the sense of discovery. Then I realized that as scientists were studying the universe beyond the earth, so were they studying the universe within the human mind. I saw a diagram of synaptic neural connections and saw the relationship between that diagram and the way we diagram constellations. So… I mapped some of the connections between the stars in the painting, and added the pattern of neuron connection (left side of painting). The result is more satisfying, and speaks of discoveries on many scales – every discovery “out there” is also a discovery that will affect our consciousness and sense of being. The Fringe of Certainty gained a broader meaning. Details below. Enjoy!
The ancient Greeks saw and creatively thought about so much of the natural world, one can’t help but be impressed with their results. Of course there was only so much they could see – the rest was left to us. In the spirit of (playfully) filling in the gaps, I present to you a new painting with speculative constellations, a developing spiral galaxy, and one big black vortex for your enjoyment. Do you see the constellations? What would you name them? Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: I chose to work on a birch plywood, alkyd-primed panel because the smooth, hard surface would facilitate the monoprint techniques used to start the image, and also because I wanted to include sharply detailed fine line work and pin-prick stars. The image began by rolling on a very thin layer of blue/black oil paint, then taking a scrap of plastic bag (touched with paint thinner) and wiping in the grand gesture of the vortex. I then proceeded to use the plastic and some paper towels to blot and wipe the surrounding areas, with the goal of lightening the tones for later glazing. It felt much like wiping an etched plate. I then dripped solvent from a brush onto the panel and blotted with Visa paper towels. Standing back and looking at the results, I felt I should add some spatters of colored blue and white stars at this stage, then leave it all to dry for a few days.
Returning to the dry painting, I brushed on several layers of transparent blue and green glazes, added more stars, and began to think about which star clusters could be mapped as constellations. As soon as the glazes dried, I started painting the lines with my smallest brush. Once these dried, I added more red/violet and warm green glazes, let them dry, then layered in more stars. Some of the stars were accentuated by dabbing paint (the same color as the star) with a splayed brush over the star, thereby softening the hard edges and allowing the star to “breathe” or twinkle. I used dark blue glazes to deepen the tonal value of the vortex.