Picturing Some Science
As another supplement to my Abstracted Directions exhibition statement, and as the last of four related blog entries, I will now consider my visual works that deal with scientific information. This subject, like so many of my longstanding interests, began years ago but has recently returned. During the 1980’s I was making a lot of drawings on paper. As I experimented, I discovered colored pencils on black paper had a mystery and luminous visual pop to them, and that became my way of making drawings on paper. Most were landscapes. They slowly evolved from valley bottom to mountain top views. Most used my early process of photorealism that employed photographs I had taken myself on slide film. The slides were projected, and as I have described elsewhere, images were transferred and now rendered with pencils. Also “art stix”, the lesser known Prismacolor art material, but long one of my preferred drawing mediums. The stix are made from the same waxy colored pigments used in the pencils but now in stick form. During the 80’s my primary subject was landscape, place, geography, and geology. The latter two were more sciences than anything else, and frankly I was more interested in what science was discovering about our world than the contemporary artists then being exhibited who were expressing their politics, weird body parts, and in my mind, bs conceptualism.
When I got to the NYC area in the 1990’s, I befriended a few other artist like me, that were also using science as an artistic launch pad. I was even singled out by a NYC curating group that decided to include me and three other scientifically inclined visual artists for a traveling museum show. Unfortunately, not enough art museums wanted to show the work, so everything fell through. Consequently the never-to-travel exhibition did not go on my resume and now I can’t look it up. Nor can I recall, the names and particulars of the time. It sucks getting old.
What the curators wanted to show for my part was both the satellite based landscapes I am most known for, but also a drawing series (the ones on black paper described above) I was making that I had entitled “In Search of the Ultimate Particle”. I had seen a NOVA show on the subject and was smitten. I had studied physics more than most students, even receiving advanced placement in physics at Stanford when I passed the special test they gave nerdy high school science students back then. I can’t say that I remember much of any of it now, but the scientific theorems and proofs were logical and understandable. And since mathematics was the basis for judgement, and I had no problems with numbers. Not so much the new, even smaller particles than electrons the labs were “discovering”. Stanford had SLAC, the Stanford Linear Accelerator, and I remember seeing it off in the distance when me and my Israeli classmates snuck into some kind of cosmic radio wave tower above the Stanford Hills that had poor deterrence measures for over zealous students. We easliy went under the single loose strand of barbed wire and quickly vaulted to the top of a huge tower overlooking the entire Santa Clara Valley, usually referred to these days as Silicon Valley. Perched on high, our young minds went into deep thoughts. Including the nature of the Universe, and of course, its constituent particles.
The 1990’s NOVA show brought me up do date with things that were not included, not even known, when I was in high school, really boarding school. Wow, quantum mechanics, probability not certainty, string theory, Schrodinger’s Cat. It was all so unfathomable. But there were scientific diagrams to help! So just like satellite images, stock charts, battleground maps, I could’t resist their temptations. I really need to dig up some of these 90’s drawings. They are around. Some were framed, then put in storage. I know I have some in the drawers of my flat files in Alaska. When I have to move from the Kenai River, hopefully this summer, I’ll get them out and photograph them so I can build yet another tab on my website.
That was then, but this is now. So how did I get back to an old favorite subject? That damn NOVA program again. (I am considering leaving the show some money in my will, if I have any). And this time I was way behind the curve. Turns out in the twenty five plus years that I wasn’t paying attention, all those scientists kept searching for more and more subatomic particles. And they found them, or so they say. I think indirect inference in these wild accelerator experiments is in use, although I am not a quantum mechanics scientist, which I am glad about. In case you are not up to speed, there are now officially six leptons, six quarks, five baryons, five measons, and five bosons. I know, ‘cause I looked it up on the internet. My internet sources also tell me “gravitons so far not have not been discovered”, so thankfully the experiments are not concluded, and we can look forward to further revelations from SLAC, CERN, and the like.
All that came up last year, 2022, and I did quite a few works attempting to picture the new understandings, if that is possible. I kinda think it isn’t, and that is what keeps me interested. On my “Particle Paintings” tab (poorly named as I will explain shortly),I have twenty-eight posted works so far. I love the titles most; Dark Energy, Muon Music, Still Searching for the Standard Model in Glue and Glitter, Cloud Chamber, and Trying to Explain the Higgs Mechanism. I didn’t. But that’s why I like to keep trying.
So here I was again, minding my own business, listening to A Love Supreme, or being bombarded by Robert Plant’s bombastic vocals abstracting what I was hearing into painterly visuals making “An Afternoon Listening to Led Zeppelin”, when it happened again. The announcement that Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in Northern California (I recall from my liberal Bay Area days they were a very suspicious part of the Military Industrial Complex) released to the news media on Dec 13, 2022 that they had achieved “net energy positive fusion ignition”. The prospects of clean fusion energy for our energy hungry, global warming world, are most likely profound. When this might be commercially feasible is now, for me, a new scientific and moneyed subject to follow. Again, I was compelled to perhaps show the phenomenon in an art work, if I could. So I tried. I have four “Fusion Experiments” up on my site. I suppose I am forced to admit that none of them do the subject justice. And as I have stated already, that is perhaps why I continue to try. The best one, #4, does an admirable job, perhaps, of showing the myriad lasers used to start the reaction.
I will now address the one aspect of all of these works that I have not mentioned so far. My new, very new, fascination with hot glue and glitter. Unlike the early drawings on black paper, all the new works are created using hot glue guns and glitter. When the glue is still hot, glitter sticks to it. When it no longer sticks, I spray the loose particles with a fixative (some fly off the panel, just like in accelerators, I reckon), then give a clear coat to lock down the loose glitter particles. If you look closely, many particles aren’t even flat to the surface, but jut out in weird angles, which I love. It’s hard to control glitter particles, they never do what you expect. Yes, glitter makes the best particles, in my opinion. I certainly can’t do them any justice trying to “paint” them.
Both the glue and the guns, I now have six, (my best gun has changeable custom tips) are in the same aisle at Michaels, the largely craft-makers store where I sometimes shop. I was seeking small pre-made panels in the beginning. Then I took a wrong turn and ventured down what became the glitter isle. Golly, I never realized how many forms/colors/shapes of glitter exist. That was my undoing, and I am sure to be branded a crafter now. Then the glue guns appeared beyond the glitter racks. Turns out you can buy sticks of colored glue, and colored glitter glue, and so on. My instinct is to try new materials, and see what I can create. These material were perfect for my latest science studies I thought. After a year of using glue guns I have learned something of their nature; be quick and gestural. It’s my approach anyway. Don’t pay any attention to the directions that strongly advise not to be quick or lift up while gluing, because you will get strings. Then I knew how to do the string theory work. Lift up constantly, be way too fast, just like an accelerator. Make as many strings as possible. Quickly throw some glitter on them while they are still tacky. The half life of a glue string is only about twenty seconds.
As a closing remark, the other last twist in all this saga, is that some of the particle works appear, for me, quite minimal. Since I am alway more inclined to be maximal, (I wrote a Manifesto on Maximalism, one of two of my only authored and officially published in print articles that nobody read in the 1990’s), to have a go at being minimal is something new for me. I end this blog by concluding that in my studio, experiments beget more experiments, just like real scientists in their labs, I figure.