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  • Writer's pictureAnna Curston

Week 4: 21st - 25th February

Hello! I’m happy to report I’ve had a very good and productive week and am very eager to be writing my second weekly blog. I feel the skies have rewarded my hard work and perseverance through the awful weather by clearing out for the end of the week – blue sky and sun for studio work followed by lovely clear nights for stargazing! It feels like a very long time since I’ve seen clear skies and I’m making the most of it while it lasts!


I’ve been ever more eager for clear skies and a spot of stargazing since I started listening to the Royal Astronomical Society's podcast The Supermassive Podcast while working in my studio. I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s curiosity of space has been stirred by my space paintings (and everyone else too!) They are not too long (under an hour) and are informative, entertaining and each one finishes with what to look for in sky in the coming month. As we’re on the subjects of podcasts, I would also highly recommend Talk Art! It’s a fantastic art podcast and just like The Supermassive Podcast you need absolutely zero background knowledge to enjoy it! I really hope you’ll check them both out, because that is what I’m all about; sharing the excitement of art and astronomy! Enough about that though, let’s get into what I’ve actually been getting up to while listening to these podcasts!


Studio Time

The start of the week saw me getting really stuck in to M31 x-ray. While painting, I really tried to focus on texture – thickness and opacity of paint, as well as the luminosity of the painting (I’ll mention this again later).


By the end of Wednesday, I was feeling really positive about M31 x-ray and thought a photo edit to figure out what needed knocking back and adding in seemed like a good idea. As such, by Thursday, I had resolved the painting. I’m super happy with the outcome, especially because I’d been apprehensive jumping up to the size of those metre square boards. As it turned out though, I once again found that the size up just meant more fun and more freedom to create large, expressive marks. I’m very happy with the colour I picked too, it achieves that energy I was looking for and is very striking and dramatic too. The colour also feels really fun; I feel it really well reflects me and my feelings while creating the painting. Not just accurate to me however, the painting also achieves a better accuracy to it’s source that the others I’ve created so far, in terms of tone and form . I'm also thrilled I was able to capture something of the spin of the object that the source photograph does not capture.


Part the reason I think the colour on this one is so effective is because of my observations when comparing the other two diptychs I’ve painted thus far. I realised that the redder colours just seemed to always look more aggressive, energetic and dangerous when against the black and white. It doesn’t matter that the more energetic light is in reality at the blue end of the electromagnetic spectrum because: a) it doesn’t have a colour as it is invisible, and b) the colour associations people are going to more powerful tool when trying to convey the idea of energy and danger as an experience. If I want to focus on the human experience of science then I need to pay attention to colour associations and what other things people are innately drawn to.


The initial paint pour for M31 radio left a striking black and white image, but blatant aesthetics are not enough. I want these paintings to be experiences and to reflect science, the object, and the wavelength the object is being observed in. The painting is green: I thought not only could pink and green be a playful colour combination, but the connotations of the colours also worked well, especially with green being considered a tranquil colour – calm green and vivid pink! So far for the radio painting I’ve just begun to build up the noise of the image. This will be pushed far, far back and hopefully the galactic disk will pop out from it by the end to reveal the hydrogen rich, star forming region.


Last week I said I wanted to make progress with the small paintings I was working on. I have, but I decided to just leave the one I was previously working on and start not only a new painting, but a new technique as the other had clearly not been working for me.

I’m treading a closer line to realism with this, but still trying to integrate the geometric shapes and expressive mark in as I build layers (still black and white). So far, I’m at least a little more inspired with it than my last attempt, but we shall see if it lasts! I’m further playing with the idea of my work walking the line between representational and abstract painting. On the one hand, there are real objects that directly influence my painting process from composition to completion, but on the other hand, the objects are created using expressive marks and painted in bright colours. I would also argue that most of the source images aren’t recognisable as anything even in their original form, so even if I perfectly painted exactly what I was seeing they would still look like abstract paintings. Abstract sources create abstract images.


Research

Back to luminosity. (Another parallel between art and science I can draw, but I’ll try keep my rambling to a minimum) One of the things I greatly admire about Jadé Fadojutimi’s work is the glow she creates within her paintings. Each one seems to almost radiate light and I wanted to figure out how she does it. I think it is predominantly down to the way she layers translucent colours over a pale ground – even in the dark areas small patches of light peak through. The colours are built up leaving small areas with less over them and thus allowing more of the pale ground to come through, I think it is this that make them appear to glow from within. Also the contrast of very dark and very light helps – patches of dark reaching over and covering small areas of light. I’ve already been using glazing a lot, but this gave me a lot to think about while I was painting and I think I may have achieved some of that glow in my most recently resolved painting, M31 x-ray.


I also looked at Chesley Bonestell (who has a crater on Mars and an asteroid named after him, living the dream!) He painted in realism and had a big impact on the popularity of manned space travel (I feel the crater and asteroid prove how influential he was). He is an example of artists reaching places that we couldn’t yet get to, but very interestingly, unlike Rudaux who inspired him, he put people into his paintings. You can see tiny figures trekking across the surface of alien moons and planets and it really makes you wonder what it would be like to be those people. Emphasising the human in science. Making his images more of an experience and showing human involvement in the stars.

Art to educate. So What 2012 by Michael Joaquin Grey was an immerse experience – art in the form of a video showing the trip from the sun to the edge of the heliosphere (where the effect sun’s gravity is felt by objects). Art that teaches science.

Dorothea Rockburne – Universes. Using art to explore and represent a variety of theories, and the history of those theories, of how humans have been exploring and representing the universe throughout history.


All three of these artists put a large emphasis of the human in science. We can teach people/ learn about science, be personally involved in science investigations... but we have always, always been fascinated by the heavens. Since we had the ability to think complex thoughts, humans have been looking up at the stars, looking, wondering, searching, recording and figuring them out.


Aside from artist research, I have also been thinking about the subject for my next diptych. After stumbling across a stunning photo of our galactic core, I settled on Sagittarius A*. I have done general research around it so far; types of radiation it emits, the nearby environment and size etc. It turns out that our very own supermassive black hole is doing peculiar things that scientist are still trying to figure out. It flares irregularly from day to day, but also over longer periods. These flares are burst of radiation 10-100 time brighter than the usual signals it gives off and we are currently in the process of trying to discover the cause. We do know it’s mass though, about 4 million solar masses (the sun is 1 solar mass). We know it’s ferocious gravity causes it’s close orbiting stars and material to reach incredible speeds, with the current record holder being S29, reaching 8740 km/s. With all this in mind, I think it could be a really exciting subject to paint.


I have come up with a word list for it, but I am still unsure how zoomed in a view I want to attempt, as the further I zoom in, the more conceptual it will have to become (although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing).


That leads me very nicely into what I want to be getting on with in the week ahead


  • Further thoughts and planning for my next diptych (which I would love to become a triptych, but I don’t know if I would have time to complete that…) I think I need to do more specific research on the radio and x-ray emissions of the black hole and the nature of what they show before deciding on compositions.


  • I want to progress M31 radio and maybe get it near to being resolved by the end of the week. We’ll see how that goes though.


  • I also want to work more on M1 classic and hopefully decided whether or not I like this new experiment (for the sake of my stress levels, I hope I do).


  • In terms of artist research though, I want to find some more science artist and I think I might look at some abstract expressionists and perhaps systems art as well.


I hope the coming week is as productive as the last one, and I am sending you all much love and positive vibes as we head into the week ahead. I’ll see you next time!


Anna.

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