My main interest here is in the sea and the sky; in the way these elements dominate the landscape and make humankind’s efforts at control look insubstantial. The sky, on this rainy day, set a sombre tone that was reflected in the waters of the Channel. The scene evoked thoughts about the transience and insignificance of my life compared to the sublime power of the natural world, and the verses from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam included in the work give expression to these thoughts. It’s probably not possible to read the verses from this image, so here they are:
Into this Universe and Why not Knowing
nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing;
and out of it, as wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.
When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help–for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
A number of different processes and materials were used in this work. Silver leaf was laid down over some areas of the sky and a verdigris preparation was used as underpainting on the land and areas of the sea. The scene was then painted in acrylic paint. Some collage elements are included in the sky and for the text. The work was then coated in encaustic medium to give depth to the colours and to enhance the surface texture of the work. Details of the sea were added with oil paint and stylized cloud shapes were stenciled into some areas of the sky with the intent of contradicting a straightforward naturalistic reading of the work.
“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about and with worms crawling through the damp earth and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 6th Edn. (from the final paragraph).
This is a famous quote, and I came across it again a couple of weeks ago in a book about the concept of the sublime in art, as it happens. I started to think about doing a drawing based on my own neck of the woods in sub-tropical South-East Queensland, with the plants and animals that are so familiar to me. It took a lot of work to plan and many, many hours dotting away with very fine point pens, but I’m happy with the result. I have submitted the work for a major drawing prize, and have got my fingers crossed for a spot in the finals. In this drawing I have tried to depict a dense web of interconnected life, rich with pattern and detail, through which the eye has to wander slowly to pick out all the animals (29 of them) and various types of plants (more than 15). The style of the drawing is intended to evoke the feel of 19th century hatural history engravings and also has been influenced by the complex fantasies of Arthur Rackham.