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  • Writer's pictureAnna Curston

Week 3: 14th – 18th February

My aim with my painting practice is to pair art and science in perfect harmony; to explore the materiality of paint, to use colour and mark to connect the human experience more deeply with the world of science. I want to draw people to science through art, making them connect with it emotionally and feel like they are a part of it. I want to draw scientists to art by showing them the scientific side of art and the emotional side of science. Both science and art require critical thinking and creativity and it is difficult to determine whether a scientist thinks like an artist, or an artist thinks like a scientist. I want to show those outside either world, that neither art nor science are intimidating. Using people’s innate attraction to colour and pattern and beauty, I aim to show how abstraction is not something complex that needs an art history degree to decipher, but something deeply human that you need only to open your heart up to, to experience to it’s fullest.

In the long term I want to show that abstract concepts can and should be presented and explored through abstract imagery. In the shorter term, I want to show that it can present and explore the subjects of astrophotography in a deeper and more real and understandable way than the photograph, showing violence and speed and heat through application of marks and colour – the language of paint.

While my paintings are of real things, it is important to me to allow my audience to each have their own personal response to them, unhindered by the knowledge of what it represents. The knowledge of the science can come later, with curiosity leading to further investigation. My titles are ambiguous to all but those who already have some knowledge on the subject so will have little effect on those not in the astronomy know, and will intrigue those with knowledge of astronomy but perhaps not art. The titles are also designed to bring up interesting google search results should one decide to type them in.

Art and science are like hot chocolate and marshmallows; both wonderful on their own, but when brought together they become something really special.

Hello again friends! I thought I'd start off this week’s blog with that bit of writing I did the other day when starting to think about the essay I have to write. As you may have noticed based on the fact only a week has past since my last blog, I am trying out weekly blogging. I had so much to say last week, and for once I did not hold back, but said it all. That is partially due to the fact my path seems much clearer to me this semester than last semester, but also because I decided to just write rather than keep it short in the hopes that someone may actually read it… I’m hoping that weekly blogs may help me to say all I have in my head without the fear of writing a full essay each time. We’ll see how it goes though; I might find it puts too much pressure on me with everything else I need to do as well. But I will never know if I don’t try, so here goes!

Over the last week I have been work on two paintings: 3C 461 radio and 3C 461 optical, and both have given me a fair amount of trouble. (But we like trouble here; if it was easy then I wouldn’t need to do it.) A quick note about these two paintings before I elaborate; one is a large coloured painting and one is small, and black and white. I thought it could be fun to do some smaller paintings, of the optical images of the subjects of my bigger paintings, in black and white. It’s a play with the idea that optical light has colour (because we see it) and the light I’m describing in my bigger images (which are in colour) does not.

The radio image of 3C 461 was a tricky one because of my desire for it to appear soft, but noisy. To get the image to be noisy without just looking busy and confused was very difficult, a balance of busy but not too busy; but I hope I have now managed to achieve this. The noisiness was fun to create, I used a wide range of techniques: fan brush, block shapes, sponge marks, silicon wedge, glazing and splattering (as well as the initial paint pour I did). It took longer to complete than 3C 461 x-ray simply because it needed more layers to be built up to create than soft noisiness. After what felt like a very long time, one final photo edit and studio session brought it to a place I felt I could call resolved. (I will get to further explore and hone this soft, noisy quality in my next pair of paintings.)

3C 461 definitely has a preferred order for displaying, looking far better when 3C461 x-ray is on the left and 3C 461 radio is on the right. As you can perhaps see, with 3C 461 radio on the left, the bright textured mark on the centre right of the painting guides your eye instantly off it to brighter, more impactful image on it’s right. You never even look at the painting on the left. This obviously not good, so they paintings must be displayed the other way around, 3C 461 x-ray will be your first port of call and after thorough investigation, he leads you gently to his partner so you can then explore him in more depth.

Overall I think these paintings are a success; they achieve a wonderfully obvious contrast in energy – the dramatic contrast of highly saturated orange and white against black is the complete opposite to the slightly muted purple with minimal contrast (except at the highlights). The x-ray image also contains far more hard geometric shapes than the radio painting which contains more soft edges and feathery marks. The colours themselves are happily also successful, with the purple and orange going very nicely together.

Unlike 3C 461 radio, 3C 461 optical is still giving me hassle. Firstly, I am finding the small area very restrictive in comparison to the large boards that give me a wonderful range of motion. This week was an improvement to last week as I did keep nearly finding something in the painting, but just when I thought I may be about to resolve it, I'd lose it again. It was maddening. After the progress of this week however, I’m optimistic that next week will be better still.

On the last studio day of this week (irritatingly Thursday as the storm shut the art school on Friday) I started my biggest boards to date; 1 metre by 1 metre! It was an exciting but terrifying moment as, despite always wanting to paint huge, I am a little intimidated by them. They’re just so big. That being said though, I already feel better about them now I have applied by first splashes (literally) of paint. Just before calling it a day of Thursday evening I poured some white paint to mark out the highlights of the image as well as some pink to add that initial splash of colour and get the ball rolling. Just a quick FYI though, I didn’t just randomly add a splash of pink to my board, I did a lot of colour mixing experiments to pick it out.

Just going to leave this here...

So, M31 x-ray’s journey has begun! Hopefully I can make some good progress with her on Monday as well as starting M31 radio. I do have a minor issue that I will have to get round in order to do this however, and that is space. There isn’t enough room as it is in my studio to lie two of my big boards flat as it would encroach rather into my studio mate’s space. I’m hoping I can just rearrange things a little to solve this or it will rather slow down my process, but as always, I will work with what I have and make the most of it. If I have to evolve my process to work around the space problem then I will.

Over the last week my research has once covered both artists and science. My artist research focused on Genevieve Leavold, David Hornung, Kazuo Shiraga and Lucien Rudaux. My science research focused on spiral galaxies, specifically M31.

The thing that stuck out to me in Leavold’s paintings was their strong narrative – conveyed through her layering of fluid brush marks. The way she slowly and carefully applies her marks creates a sense of calm, and her technique is quite similar to my own when it comes to building layers and glazing to push them back. The way she applies her brush marks also feels similar to how I use my fan brush. I like her focus on layering and want to think about that more, especially with the smaller boards and the less energetic wavelengths.

Hornung brought to my attention the use of contrast in value (or lack of) to create softness as well as the use of other forms of contrast; in hue. A tonally identical blue square, for example, will still stand out from a yellow image because although they share the same value, their temperatures are opposing. I think I should try using a transparent and opaque version of my chosen colour in my paintings so I can have greater flexibility.

Kazuo Shiraga is further proof of my statement: The energy used in the creation of a movement is directly translated onto the surface. His wild swinging technique, moving his paint around with his feet as he swung over the surface, is immortalised in his paintings. The imprints of his movement are present in the thick and thin flung paint. The more I thought about the concept, the more I saw the parallel between it and the first law of thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed from one form to another. Can you see the beautiful metaphor we have here? Where the energy of the movement has be transformed into the energy of the painting. Obviously this is not literal, but on the whole in science the simplifying of ideas often makes them a little bit wrong, so it’s okay.

Describing science through the language of paint.

Lucien Rudaux was an astronomer. He was also an artist. An excellent historical example of a man interested in the cosmos also being interested in art. He took his knowledge of astronomy and applied his artistic skill and imagination to show planets as they might look from their moons. Looking at a lot of his images now with modern knowledge, they are flawed with a huge number of inaccuracies, and yet, others are surprisingly accurate. This is just proof that sometimes our assumptions and interpretations can be fairly on point, even with limited knowledge, and sometimes can be very far off despite being based off the best knowledge of the day. That is true whether these interpretations are in art of science theory form. I therefore say; why force realism? If we know that we might well be guessing wrong, then why try to convince the viewer we know all? Why not show the mystery?

I did many pages of research and experiments in preparation for painting M31. My compositional experiments were mainly based around how best to express that one painting is a wide view of the object, showing it in its entirety, while the other is a zoomed in view of only the heart of the object. The research I did around M31 and spiral galaxies in general helped me to generate a word bank to keep on hand to remind me of M31s most important traits to inform the painting.

The idea and source are very important to the painting, despite my work not being illustrations. I want to achieve accuracy without removing the humanity.

Next week I think I’ll start my artist research off with Jade Fadojutimi as I feel I am yet to achieve her luminosity of colour and want to explore how she does it so successfully. As I said earlier, I also want to make good progress on the two big M31 boards. Hopefully I will also make excellent progress with 3C 461 optical and ideally resolve it so I can move on. If not, I will probably try to start M1 optical anyway because I have been obsessing over it for three weeks so perhaps I need to leave it and come back to it with fresh eyes.

I think that’s all for today folks, I hope it was interesting for you to read. I think I will like doing weekly blogs. Now my path is clearer to me, I’ve got so much to think about and I’m thoroughly enjoying writing it all down. These blogs take me hours though, I don’t like to do things by halves! But it is good to have a sit down and look back through the last week of pages in my sketchbook, pulling out important lessons and making connections and finding new ideas. It’s also pretty therapeutic as I’ve always enjoyed writing.

I hope you all have an amazing week, and I’ll see you next time!


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