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Above the Grid:

Multidimensional Perspectives
in
Landscape

Carmel Byrne

Master of Fine Arts


Thesis
2010
ORIGINALITY STATEMENT

‘I hereby declare that this submission is my own work and to the best of my knowledge
it contains no materials previously published or written by another person, or
substantial proportions of material which have been accepted for the award of any
other degree or diploma at UNSW or any other educational institution, except where
due acknowledgement is made in the thesis. Any contribution made to the research
by others, with whom I have worked at UNSW or elsewhere, is explicitly acknowledged
in the thesis. I also declare that the intellectual content of this thesis is the product of
my own work, except to the extent that assistance from others in the project’s design
and conception or in style, presentation and linguistic expression is acknowledged.’

Signed ......................................................................................

Date . .........................................................................................
Resonance:

The energy that forms in the gap


between
like-minded things

(Paul Carter)
Abstract

Landscape and maps are a rich source for metaphor on which to build a symbolic and

empirical language when coding and decoding the world. The perception of maps, in a

Eurocentric context, as Cartesian representations of the grid include all the implications

associated with power, ownership and colonisation. However, maps also contain coded

information in relation to topography, movement and the inscription of spatial history. It is

in this meeting of ephemeral action and the material of land where I explore philosophical

questions about nature and our place within it.

Research for this thesis led to analogous connections between the material universe and

the spiritual domain and research into the techniques of painters such as Sean Scully and

Brice Marden led to the significance of material in art as a transformative medium. A

search for analogous connections in the modern abstract art movement and indigenous

art, in particular Australian desert painters, led to the discovery of philosophical

similarities underpinning contemporary Aboriginal art and early modernist abstract

painters, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. This research has shifted my painting

practice to a position where I can open out to more diverse possibilities in the depiction of

rhythm and movement in landscape.

iv
Contents
List of Figures......................................................................................................................................... vi
Chapter 0 Introduction........................................................................................................................ 1
Chapter One Background................................................................................................................... 3

Part I Concepts
Chapter Two Advaita............................................................................................................................ 7
Non Duality.................................................................................................................................... 8
Modern Abstract Art................................................................................................................. 10

Chapter Three Multidimensional Perspectives.......................................................................... 13


Analogous Thinking.................................................................................................................. 13
Spatial History............................................................................................................................. 14
Material Intelligence.................................................................................................................. 15

Part II Materialisation
Chapter Four Material........................................................................................................................ 18
Landscape.................................................................................................................................... 18
The Grid......................................................................................................................................... 19
Climate and Weather................................................................................................................20
Process...........................................................................................................................................22
Maps...............................................................................................................................................25
Tracks....................................................................................................................................25
Maps.....................................................................................................................................26

Chapter Five Painting.........................................................................................................................28


Layers.............................................................................................................................................28
Ground...........................................................................................................................................30
Space.............................................................................................................................................. 31
Colour............................................................................................................................................. 32
Brushwork..................................................................................................................................... 33
Animation..................................................................................................................................... 35

Chapter Six Conclusion......................................................................................................................36

Acknowledgements............................................................................................................................38
Bibliography.......................................................................................................................................... 39
Appendices............................................................................................................................................ 41

v
Figures
Figure 1. Carmel Byrne, Bridge, Gloucester & Cahill, 2003 . ...................................................3
Figure 2. Carmel Byrne, Baxter, 2004 . ........................................................................................4
Figure 3. Carmel Byrne, Pembrrickewakow, 2005 ...................................................................5
Figure 4. Carmel Byrne, Cloud Clearing, 2008 ..........................................................................5
Figure 5. Wassily Kandinsky, Motley Life, 1907 .......................................................................11
Figure 6. Wassily Kandinsky, Sketch for Composition II, 1909-10 . .....................................11
Figure 7. Wassily Kandinsky, Impression III, 1911 ...................................................................11
Figure 8. Wassily Kandinsky, Black Lines, 1913 ...................................................................... 11
Figure 9. JMW Turner, Shade and Darkness: Evening of the Deluge, 1843 ..................... 20
Figure 10. Rover Thomas, Cyclone Tracy, 1991 . ........................................................................21
Figure 11. Rover Thomas, Cyclone Tracy, 1995 .........................................................................21
Figure 12. Carmel Byrne, Summer Haze, 2009 ........................................................................ 22
Figure 13. Carmel Byrne, Connells Point, 2007 ........................................................................ 22
Figure 14. Carmel Byrne, Peakhurst heights, 2007 ................................................................. 22
Figure 15. Carmel Byrne, Cloud Chart, 2009............................................................................ 23
Figure 16. Carmel Byrne, Winter Cloud, 2010 .......................................................................... 24
Figure 17. Carmel Byrne, Process images for Summer Scorcher, 2010 . ........................... 27
Figure 18. Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1947 ...................................................................................... 29
Figure 19. Rover Thomas, Nilah Marudji, 1996 . ...................................................................... 29
Figure 20. Carmel Byrne, Spring Rain, 2009 ..............................................................................31
Figure 21. Carmel Byrne, Studio Notebook, 2010 . .................................................................. 33
Figure 22. Sean Scully, Angel, detail, 1983 . .............................................................................. 34
Figure 23. Brice Marden, Orange, Rocks, Red Ground (3), detail, 2000-02 . ..................... 34
Figure 24. Carmel Byrne, Cloud Clearing, detail, 2008 . ........................................................ 34

vi
Chapter 0 Introduction­

This thesis is divided into two parts in order to distinguish two fundamental components

of the paintings presented for this Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Part I of this thesis outlines

conceptual sources and Part II describes the process to materialise those sources primarily

through painting. I have segregated the conceptual and material aspects to more easily

distinguish the contribution each pays to the evolution of the work. However, in practice,

the two approaches are one as they become integrated and concrete when concepts are

implicit as paint is applied to canvas.

Chapter One is a brief summary of previous bodies of work and the evolution of my research

and painting practice. It provides a personal historical context of earlier motivations in

relation to painting and traces the evolution of the work as a whole.

Part I, Concepts, includes Chapters Two and Three. Chapter Two is an attempt to articulate

the paradoxical concept of Advaita, also known as Advaita Vedanta, which underpins my

work. Advaita describes the universe as a monistic system where non dualism (unity) is

the underlying structure of a dualistic (binary) material universe. This section goes on to

define the distinction between duality and dualism, and discusses the affinity that existed

between early abstract painters who were aware of the concept of non duality through The

Theosophical Society early in the twentieth century.

Chapter Three, Multidimensional Perspectives, explores the notion that there exists an

inherent creative intelligence in material. In this context the human body and mind are

included as one creative material intelligence, as opposed to Cartesian separation of mind

and body. To illustrate I discuss transformation in colloidal systems, analogous thinking,

and spatial history.

Part II is divided into two Chapters: Material and Painting. Chapter Four (Material) explores

the transformation of concepts into painted forms, such as the depiction of elements that
allude to landscape, for instance, climate and weather. The section Landscape discusses

a shift in my work where the perspective lifts from land to the space above land to focus

on climate and weather. This section also includes discussion of the grid, climate and

weather, maps, and my working process.

Chapter Five explores the practical aspects of painting and how paint as a material achieves

the physical manifestations of the conceptual aspirations for the work. It describes the

technical process of constructing the paintings through the layering of oil paint, the

depiction of space, sensation of colour, and rhythm of brushwork.

This chapter includes a section on animation where in contrast to the finished paintings I

make an animated film by digitally documenting each stage of each painting. The digital

images are dropped into Final Cut Pro software to create a stop motion film that reasserts

the linear time aspect of the work.

Chapter Six is the Conclusion and summarises the conceptual and practical journey

explored and analysed in this thesis.

2
Chapter One Background

Travelling or journeying has been a constant theme in my work. Earlier work looked at

the journey across or through space as an external experience. The current work is a more

internal, personalised take on that theme where as well as depicting a journey or track

across the picture plane, I bury the history of the journey into the picture plane. Layers

of semi-transparent oil paint are built up to a translucence that internally projects an

inscribed visual memory of the journey.

The point where I began to consciously include multidimensional perspectives in my work

was when I was accepted into Art on The Rocks in 2003. In preparation I researched early

colonial settlement and what I could of Aboriginal history in Sydney Cove and embedded

the research knowledge into the layers of paint. To start I examined a street directory of

The Rocks and imagined that some of the roads could quite probably have developed from

Aboriginal walking tracks which in turn could have evolved from animal tracks carved

as a ground-level response to topography. For example, Oxford Street, Sydney, developed

from an Aboriginal track, a trade route, that runs along a ridge to the coast (Unknown,

Barani 4).

I used street graphics of the area to develop imagery

and when lifted from the context of the maps the street

graphics were instantly reduced and abstracted. I began

to reconstruct the map graphics by layering other

environmental and historical components into the picture

plane. For example, the sand-coloured ground in the

Sydney Cove paintings alludes to the Sydney sandstone

basin. Roads were edited out in order to construct a

satisfying composition and the colours of the remaining


Fig. 1 Carmel Byrne, Bridge,
Gloucester & Cahill, 2003, oil on
roads are references to local flora. paper, 65.5 x 37 cm

3
Embedded beneath the surface are shadowy traces of roads that create a living history in

the paintings. The support is unstretched canvas which is a literal reference to maps as

well as canvas tents1 and the paintings are hung through eyelets with rope.

Not long after the Art on the Rocks exhibition I moved to New York and continued to think

about the significance of roads and tracks and their connection to the past. I concentrated

on downtown Manhattan’s road system that had developed during early settlement, before

the current grid system was imposed in the mid 1800s. Broadway, according to Robert

Rusie, developed from an important native Indian track.2

Continuing the conceptual thread of the Sydney Cove

works I made a series of drawings and paintings using

Manhattan street graphics. I began the paintings with

earth colours in reference to the natural history of

the island. Layers of paint and colour were built up

until they developed into reduced greyscale images. I

submerged all but one of the streets, lifting the single

road to the surface of the painting. The final colour

palette reflects a cold and grimy winter in New York,


Fig. 2 Carmel Byrne, Baxter, 2004, oil
on unstretched canvas, 110 x 89 cm
the pressure and weight of that extreme climate.

The resulting images were different from the Sydney Cove paintings due to differing

environmental, cultural, and climatic elements. The title of the series, Satellite, has a number

of references from colonialism to satellite suburbs, to the most apparent perspective of the

paintings, which is as if from a satellite in space.

1
“Early settlement was all canvas tents” (Garner, email exchange, June 2009).
2
“An Indian trail before white men reached the Island of Manhattan, in the days of the Dutch it had grown into a
country road called Heere Straat or Breedeweg”, (Rusie 1).

4
In 2004 I moved to Bermuda where my living and social conditions had changed in that I

was now overtly an expatriate, living and working in a foreign culture. The Bermuda

paintings reflect a different culture, climate and light as compared to Sydney and

Manhattan. The imagery was more figurative but again derived from road maps and the

colour palette was sourced primarily from local architecture which is a mix of British

colonial structures with African decoration.

Fig. 3 Carmel Byrne, Pemrbrrickewakow, 2005, oil on


canvas, 122 x 152 cm

Forecast, the series of paintings presented for this MFA, is a further development in the

evolution of the concepts and imagery around maps. For this series I selected streets, or

patterns made by streets, laid down along the Georges River, Sydney, including a suburb

where I was raised. The area holds for me traces of past childhood actions and I began to

consider how a personal psychological state can affect perspective on land. This expanded

the work where an internal space is merged into the depiction of land and that included

my own childhood aesthetic of ‘blocky’ colours, characteristic of television cartoons.

Fig. 4 Carmel Byrne, Cloud Clearing, 2008, oil on


canvas, 45.5 x 61 cm

5
Part I

Concepts
Chapter Two Advaita

This chapter discusses the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings of my work and

refers to similar peceptions of artists that influence my work. Advaita is based on ancient

Vedic literature and the Sanskrit word means ‘not two’ or ‘non duality’. Advaita philosophy

proposes that underlying the perceived dualistic law of nature is a law of unity where

everything is one vital energy or ‘Consciousness’. In this view the material universe is one

force manifested as many changeable forms: mass, wave, different energy forms, etc. Vedic

texts such as the Upanishads describes a paradoxical universe where unity enfolds and

supports a material existence that operates through dualistic laws of nature. The dualistic

laws of nature create polar contrasts that enable perception.3

The basic premise of Advaita, that the universe is a monistic system of conscious energy

that animates all phenomena, contradicts the Eurocentric perspective that the individual

self is a separate entity. This sense of individual self creates a dualism where a feeling of

separation predominates and is exemplified by theological, economic, and social structures

such as battles between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

On the surface the terms dualistic and dualism appear similar and the distinction is subtle,

there are however substantial philosophical differences. The Oxford Concise Dictionary

has the following definitions:

Duality: consisting of two parts, elements, or aspects.

Dualism: the division of something conceptually into two opposed

or contrasted aspects, such as good and evil or mind and

matter.

3
If we did not have the phenomenon of contrast, such as hot and cold, light and dark, we would not be able to
perceive or experience.

7
The key is the term division as used to define dualism. To divide is to separate into two

entities whereas in duality there is an appearance of separateness, however, that appearance

retains the integrity of a whole as, for example, the two sides of one coin. Dualism is a

divisive concept whereas duality is not.

The concept of Advaita has an affinity with modern physics, in particular the relationship

between energy and matter. Recent discoveries in quantum physics and the study of sub-

atomic matter and energy sit philosophically closer to the Advaita concept of unity as

compared to dualism which sits closer to Cartesian concepts rooted in Judeo-Christian

philosophy (Callicott & Overholt 50).

High energy physicists and cognitive psychologists are forging a path to a deeper

understanding of the nature of consciousness. Consciousness in this respect is distinguished

from mind-consciousness, which refers to individual psychology, and includes everything

that is inside of our awareness.

Non Duality

The concept of non duality is one that points to an intelligent material universe unified
by one energy source. Similar concepts are evolving in modern physics, for example, Dr

Stuart Hameroff4 offers an alternative to the accepted view that consciousness emerges

from complex computation (information). Dr Hameroff proposes that consciousness

arises at the quantum level from infrastructures inside neurons (Chopra, Is Consciousness

Connected  1). Physicists Jae-Weon Lee, Hyeong-Chan Kim, and Jungjai Lee recently

published a paper supporting this theory where they suggest that gravity comes from

quantum information and that it is information that drives photons and electrons, and not

the other way around as previously thought. This new insight points to the possibility that

“information itself is the ghostly bedrock on which our universe is built” (fcKentucky 2).

This quantum information, or energy, can be viewed as intelligence itself, which is

4
Dr Hameroff researches quantum consciousness at the Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona.

8
consistent with the concept of non duality and can be considered as spiritual or natural

energy.5

Rhythm and pattern are visual traces of energy in movement. Malcolm Andrews writes

about rhythms and patterns that reflect natural energy (179-180) and refers to seventeenth

century poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, who coined the technical term ‘inscape’ to express

the complex impressions of landscape on the mind. Inscape emerges when landscape is

fully understood as a direct manifestation of these rhythmical energies through natural

form (Andrews 195).

The recognition of rhythmical energies that emanate in the landscape, or any environment,

corresponds with many indigenous cultural practices. According to Stephen Mulhall

thinkers such as Heidegger regard ordinary experience, such as rhythm for instance, as

the domain within which the essence of human existence is manifest (108). Robert Lawlor

goes on to explain: “The visible actuality of a form exists simultaneously with its invisible

potential” and that time is the rhythmic swing between the visible (material) and the

invisible (potential) (Lawlor 41).

Rhythm and pattern permeate the material world and can be considered a holographic

projection of events or movements on a quantum level. In his book of essays, Resistance

and Persistence, painter Sean Scully (b. 1945) writes about his interest in the spiritual

domain and his belief that the world is filled with spiritual energy (91). Scully’s goal is to

materialise this belief through the act of making art and he does this through conjuring

rhythms in his paintings. Scully wrote his MFA thesis on the rhythm transformed in

Matisse’s Dance (Resistance and Persistence 96).

5
In an Advaita perspective, ‘spiritual energy’ and ‘natural energy’ are synonymous.

9
Modern Abstract Art

In 1936 Alfred H. Barr Jr6 devised a chart The Development of Abstract Art (See Appendix I)

to describe the evolution of abstraction. According to Barr (Auping 14):

The two main arteries of abstract art consist of the expressionistic and the
geometrical, the former deriving from the theories of Gauguin evolving
into the art of Matisse, Kandinsky, and later the Surrealists. The other
strain which he describes as “more important”, developed from the art
of Cezanne through Cubism, Constructivism, and the radical geometry
associated with the abstraction of Mondrian.

Barr describes the former artery as intuitional and emotional and the latter as “intellectual,

structural, architectonic, geometrical, rectilinear and classical in its austerity and

dependence upon logic and calculation . . .” (Auping 14). Barr clearly preferred the latter

that was Piet Mondrian’s (1872 - 1944) legacy, however, Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944)

and Mondrian were both studying the same Advaita concepts through The Theosophical

Society which taught the ancient Hindu doctrines brought back from the East by Madame

Helena Blavatsky (1831 - 1891), founder of The Theosophical Society (Fingesten 2).

Non-objective art was the external manifestation of a spiritual revolution


that did not materialize, except in art. It was precipitated by Theosophy,
a self-styled universal religion, founded in New York in 1875, which
aimed at a spiritual revitalization of the West. Theosophy offered
instead a mystic, oriental interpretation of life and evolution . . . On
this Theosophical foundation Kandinsky and Mondrian formed their
aesthetic theories.

(Fingesten 2)

In 1908 Kandinsky attended a lecture in Berlin given by the German theosophist Rudolf

Steiner (Dabrowski 108). Dabrowski attributes the years Kandinsky spend in Germany, in

particular the years 1908-14, as the period when his “greatest innovations occurred” (22).

6
Barr was the Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York at that time.

10
Up until that time his work was influenced in subject matter and style by his Russian

background (Dabrowski 14) and anchored in ‘reality’. It is widely accepted that Kandinsky

produced the first modern abstract, non-representational paintings around 1910. The

following images are an example of Kandinsky’s evolution from representational to

abstract imagery over a period of only a few years.

Fig. 5 Wassily Kandinsky, Motley Life, Fig. 6 Wassily Kandinsky, Sketch for
1907, tempera on canvas, 130 x 162 cm Composition II, 1909-10, 97.5 x 131 cm

Fig. 7 Wassily Kandinsky, Impression III, Fig. 8 Wassily Kandinsky, Black


1911, oil on canvas, 77.5 x 100 cm Lines, 1913, oil on canvas,
129.5 x 131 cm

The Theosophical Society had extensive influence over artists and thinkers during the

early development of the modernist movement in Europe.7 According to Carel Blotcamp


the attraction of Theosophy was that it “did away with all the existing boundaries between

the world religions and religious organisations” and that “Theosophy apparently had

no trouble in fusing the Judeo-Christian tradition with the religions, philosophies and

mysteries of ancient Greece, Egypt and India. At the same time it was receptive to new

scientific developments, from Darwin’s theory of evolution to the study of the human

psyche” (Blotcamp 34-35).

7
See Appendix II for a list of well known artists and thinkers that were influenced by theosophy.

11
Blotkamp writes that Theosophy was of crucial importance to Mondrian (14), however

he also observes that Mondrian “seldom employed symbolism of a clearly theosophical

nature” (Blotkamp  15). I argue that Mondrian and Kandinsky disregarded the more

supernatural and occult practises of the theosophists and instead embraced the root of

the philosophy, which is the concept of non duality: “culled from those classic Hindu

scriptures popularised by theosophy in the West, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita”

(Fingesten 4).

According to Fingesten, Mondrian wanted above all to catch the “pulsating rhythm of

life.” Mondrian wrote in his Notebooks:

To approach the spiritual in art, one will use as little of reality as possible,
for reality is opposed to the spiritual. Thus the use of elementary forms is
quite logical. Since these forms are abstract, we find ourselves confronted
by an art that is abstract.

(Mondrian, cited in Fingesten 3).

The emerging view today in Advaita theory is that the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘material’8 do not
oppose each other but instead hold equal status, reflecting a move away from hierarchical

Judeo-Christian structures and rendering the search for the ‘pure’ no longer necessary.

This is demonstrated in a contemporary context by painters such as Sean Scully, Brice

Marden (b.1938), and Australian desert painters, such as Emily Kngwarreye (1910 - 1996),

where a three-dimensional sense of the material is fully engaged along with a mix of

complex cultural and personal narratives. Painterly intentions to touch the spiritual are

attained through the material ‘here and now’. I think there is a philosophical analogy

between the development of early western abstract imagery and the imagery of Australian

desert painters. Kandinsky and Mondrian developed a visual language from a philosophy

that parallels a long held Australian Aboriginal belief in the connectedness of everything.

The imagery is abstract because the philosophical groundings are similar.

8
The material is what Mondrian refers to as reality.

12
Chapter Three Multidimensional Perspectives
Analogous Thinking

Day-to-day existence is saturated with sensations of lingering history. An analogous

imagination can link that history to contemporary events and sensations. Stafford puts it

this way: “Analogy provides opportunities to travel back into history, to spring forward in

time, to leap across continents” (11). For me this is an opening up, an expansion that can

be ruminated over when painting.

Analogous thinking is a mode that cross-references everything in the phenomenal world,

that sees everything as connected and that that connection is made through informed

imagination (Stafford 169). Dr Paul Carter writes of similar ideas where he describes

figurative thinking as to “associate formerly distant things on the basis of some imagined

likeness. It is to draw together things formerly remote from one another . . . It is a

world where the laws governing relationships count, and where the value of passages is

recognized” (Dark Writing 6). Imaginative analogous thinking is the potential for change

that resonates in the passage between us and the material world, and the space between

us all.

Analogous thought includes the contradictory and ironic structures of post-modernist

theory, however, they differ wherein analogous thought in practise leads to a more

sophisticated openness of mind that celebrates difference. Carter writes that artists create

a ‘poetic wisdom’ through the capacity “to perceive analogies existing between matters

far apart and, apparently, most dissimilar” (Material Thinking 7).9 To illustrate these

analogous relationships Carter uses the image of a cultural weave where the warp are

grand narratives stabilised by the weft of local culture “gaining agency over their story

lines” (Material Thinking 11). Insight can be gained with analogous thought through an

overview of rhythms and patterns of apparently disparate threads knitted together; this is
9
Carter also writes that post-enlightenment science depends on a capacity to see analogues and that the use of
creative imagination bridges the gaps in reason (Carter, Dark Writing 8).

13
especially so when weaving concepts and materials from a different place and time. It is a

collaborative approach that can be applied in the material world in that it’s a demonstrative

practice which puts “the visible into relationship with the invisible” (Stafford 23).

I consider my own approach to painting an analogous visual technique where thoughts

connect and interact through layers of paint to reflect the dynamics of history. The

thoughts in this particular series of paintings are predominantly what is verbalised in this

thesis: the history and graphic nature of maps, art history, climate and weather, and the

act of painting. This is in contrast to allegorical painting where imagery and thoughts are

usually cluttered across the surface of the picture plane.

Spatial History

. . . space . . . is the discursive residue of a collectivity of movement forms,


histories and experiences.

(Carter, Dark Writing 83)

Paul Carter’s ideas on spatial history influence the formulation of the conceptual history of

my paintings. In an historical context Carter writes about space and time, and events that

occurred in space and time, in particular where he imagines the struggle of early Australian

explorers and the pathos that defined that struggle. He emphasises that “.  .  .  historical

events are spatial, as well as temporal” (Carter, Living In A New Country 23). This implies

that events are inscribed in space and that they somehow linger. Wally Caruana suggests

a similar notion when he describes the physical landscape as “a palimpsest of history and

human interaction” (Roads Cross 3).

The layering of paint creates a palimpsest where thought and action are recorded and

erased by further layers of paint. It is an action that, as Andrews puts it, advances

exploratively, recognizing that the future is invented (294). In the context of painting that

can be reflected in how one colour will affect the tone and choice of colour for the next

14
layer, or where imagery is transformed by further layers. In my paintings, earthy grid-like

patterns are submerged into the ground of the paintings and above, at the surface of the

canvas, is the slower rhythm of an ethereal space above earth. This history of thought and

action creates an invisible spatial history that reverberates with the visible parts of the

paintings.

Material Intelligence

The notion of ‘material intelligence’ is another way of placing the visible in relationship

with the invisible. In addition to investigations into quantum consciousness by quantum

physicists, high-energy physicists are exploring the interaction of matter and energy

though acceleration experiments such as at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe.

In the LHC, particles are whipped around until reaching nearly the speed of light, then

smashed together, resulting in new varieties of matter (Kaiser 19). The acceleration process

is to simulate gravity and the intent is to prove theories that explain mysteries such as the

fact that all forms are made up of only five per cent matter. The other ninety-five per cent is

raw energy: “. . . Mass does not arise from clumping lots of heavy items together; it comes

very nearly from nothing, from the feverish quantum dance of massless particles” (Kaiser

20). In other words it is mainly energy that creates mass and form. In this light I suggest

that all material is informed by an energy which can be seen as creative intelligence.

Colloidal systems are an example of creative energy. Paint itself is a colloid, and Carter has

used colloids to symbolise creative processes. Colloids have been defined as consisting of

“. . . a dispersed phase (or discontinuous phase) distributed uniformly in a finely divided

state in a dispersion medium (or continuous phase)” (Everett 4). For example, clay, slurry

and mud are solids in a dispersed phase distributed through a liquid dispersion medium

(Carter, Dark Writing 177).

Early humans exploited colloids when they prepared butter, cheese, and yogurt and later

in the making of bricks, in the extraction of glue from bones and the preparation of inks

15
and pigments. One of the major features of the development of colloid science has been

advances made in colloid technology. Examples of colloids in modern technology are

glass, resins, plastics, films, and fibres (Everett 12).

Swamps and mudflats are examples of colloidal systems and without their colloidal

characteristics there would be no fossilised impressions. These types of colloidal systems

have a tendency to form tracks that are rough and irregular where:

The geometry is fractal, not Euclidean. It is the irregularity of the


colloidal surface that precipitates characteristic colloidal phenomena.
Colloids are sticky. They tend to glue together . . .

(Carter, Dark Writing 204)

Cloud, rainfall, smoke, and mist are colloidal systems, and so is smog. Carter extends

colloidal systems to thinking where he asks: “What is the material of thought?” and

concludes that “like-minded things, that is, material that is creative . . . that can reinvent

itself when mixed with another material . . . A material act of analogous intelligence

inherent in material.” (Carter, Material Thinking 183).

I see an analogy for painting where the material of oil paint is mixed with a painter’s

material thinking and together they invent and reinvent. The transformation of colloids is

analogous to the effort to transcend oneself suggesting a collaboration between material

and the painter where together they create: “a spreading resonance . . . the energy that

forms in the gap between like-minded things . . .” (Carter, Material Thinking 183).

From this perspective it seems legitimate for painters such as Sean Scully, who has high

intentions for the ideals of abstract art, to insist that his paintings need also to be very

much connected to the physicality of the material world.

16
Part II

Materialisation
Chapter Four Material

Landscape

The landscapes we inhabit are metaphorical as well as physical.

(Paul Carter, Dark Writing, 175)

In medieval Europe there was no tradition of landscape painting as an independent genre.

In medieval frescoes and panel paintings it was relegated to the lower tiers and played no

more than a subordinate role (Wolf 8). It wasn’t until the seventeenth century when “Dutch

painters left Italian Renaissance ideals behind in favour of particular sense impressions”

(Wolf 9)”10 that landscape as subject matter began to emerge in Europe. It was a slow

evolution and a century later painters, such as British landscape artist JMW Turner (1775

- 1851), were still working to raise the status of landscape art (Brown 16).

In 1436 Leon Battista Alberti wrote a treatise, Della pittura, on the theory of painting,

advocating Euclidean geometry where he: “codified the basic geometry so that the linear

perspective became mathematically coherent and related to the spectator” (Liukkonen 2).

Linear perspective is mostly anchored to the earth and sea. I am interested in the space

above land where weather and climate act to shape it. Climate and weather is the only true

wilderness with which to contend when living in an urban environment; as much as we

try to domesticate land, there is little we can do to control weather. Land and landscape

painting continues to be philosophically gridlocked by Euclidean or Cartesian space.

Artists such as Australian Aboriginal desert painters lead the way out of this Cartesian

gridlock with a symbolic language that depicts an active space that is above and beneath,

behind and before. Painters such as Emily Kngwarreye appear to engage fully in a three-

dimensional sense of space when painting on a two-dimensional surface. However, for

me to completely abandon the grid would be an act of denial of its existence in a cultural

10
Leading to a diversification of landscape subjects to include, for instance, seascape and marine painting.

18
legacy that is western landscape art. Therefore, the grid resides in the ground of these

current paintings where its power to project is diluted.

The Grid

Grids and rectangles don’t act, they establish a ground for action.

(Brice Marden, cited by Shiff 42)

Grids are fundamentally about a way of thinking and have many implications for art,

philosophy, and science. They are a metaphor for the human need to make sense of the

world and to control it. Grids are used to help bring order and to impose structured

thinking into a process (Roberts and Thrift 19-20). Renaissance painters used the grid to

scale up imagery, and to help create the illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface.

Later the grid was adopted as a modernist notion11 and it moved from the background
to the foreground along with the development of abstract art . . . “When it did so, the

reasons were surprisingly mystical . . .” where painters such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir

Malevich (1878 - 1935) were “using the grid as a basis for a spiritual quest”12 (Roberts and

Thrift 50).

Greek and Roman colonial towns were laid out in grids and later the grid was a significant

tool for colonisation when used for orientation and placement, and the drawing up of

borders and boundaries. Carter writes that the grid is immune to spatial history and

renders everywhere the same; that it exemplifies the principles of Euclidean geometry in

that it negates spatial properties of distance, relation, and direction, and that it splits time

and space into history and geography (Carter, Road to Botany Bay 204).

I see myself as standing in line with painters who work with an interest in the mystical

and spiritual domain. In earlier work I used the grid explicitly to organise abstract images;

11
The term came into common use just after the Second World War (Roberts and Thrift 20)
12
Malevich also studied the concept of non duality through The Theosophical Society.

19
for this work I wanted to bury it into the ground of the paintings where it lingers. I start

the canvasses with a grid and over time, with many layers, work up the ground texturally

and tonally until it launches up from the earth-bound grid into the space that embraces

it. Through this shift of perspective from land to the space above land, the work embraces

the more ephemeral elements of climate and weather; that is, the elements that shape and

interact with land.

Climate and Weather

. . . a place that gets a lot of weather – there’s the outside weather and then
in my case there’s considerable amount of inside weather that accounts
for the nature of the work, its tenacity, its rigour, and at the same time its
melancholia and its romanticism. In a situation like that you have both
shade and bright light (Sean Scully).

(Unknown, The Art Newspaper)

Looking at the history of western landscape painting, weather and sky play a secondary

role, or a backdrop, to the landscape, irrespective of the metaphorical mood that sky and

weather invoke. Turner was one of the first painters to shift focus to the ephemeral but

nonetheless dynamic aspects of landscape, such as weather, in particular fog, rain and

cloud. He thought about man’s place in the natural world as a “sometimes vulnerable

partner rather than a destructive and domineering master” (Brown 11).

He went to extremes in order to immerse

himself in weather to experience, through the

senses, the play of the natural forces (Andrews

178). This was, according to Andrews, a new

development in the relationship between the

artist and the natural world. He internalised

the energy of weather directly through the


Fig. 9 JMW Turner, Shade and Darkness: Evening of
the Deluge, 1843, oil on canvas, 78.5 x 78 cm
senses. Turner painted in his studio and his

20
primary concern was to paint what he felt about his experience rather than what he saw.

His painterly merging of sky and land through the depiction of bad weather dissipated

the horizon line with indistinct masses overlaid by the rhythm of weather, such as rain or

sleet.

Rover Thomas (1926 - 1998) used weather as primary subject matter in his Cyclone Tracy

paintings. In 1974 Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin and Aboriginal elders interpreted

the cyclone as a warning not to forego their culture and its ceremonies and to keep the

culture strong (Caruana, Rover Thomas 2). Thomas seems to have personified Cyclone

Tracy through graphic imagery where winds feed into the body of the cyclone in a force

that carries it along. In a minimal visual language Thomas describes the intensity of the

force of Cyclone Tracy literally and possibly as a metaphor for the threat to his people and

culture.

Fig. 10 Rover Thomas, Cyclone Tracy, 1991, earth Fig. 11 Rover Thomas, Cyclone Tracy, 1995, ochre
pigments on canvas, 168 x 180 cm on canvas, 50 x 70 cm

For this current series of work, Forecast, I have simplified elements to a few motifs. The

ground of the paintings are dense but light and translucent and are more atmospheric than

earth-like. The three meteorological symbols are the most solid areas in the paintings and

the perspective is in profile as opposed to the final map imagery, which is in plan. The

final layers are painted as a type of colloidal system in the form of an inverted street map

where the linear movement of the road is depicted as negative space. Each canvas implies

a season that sets a tone that could be an internal or external expression. With this system

21
I can contrast the concrete and ethereal aspects of landscape, such as the density of land,

with the lightness of air and space.

Fig. 12 Carmel Byrne, Summer Haze, 2009, oil on linen,


45.5 x 61 cm

Process
For this project I chose the road maps along the Georges River, Sydney, and spent

significant time stumbling around in the early stages of the process. I had already the title

Multidimensional Perspectives in Landscape for my thesis paper but struggled to find a

visual expression for the perspectives I wanted to include. At first I came up with explicit

figurative imagery which was probably a visual hangover from the Bermuda works. I soon

left these behind and moved onto ideas of layering and intertwining linear representations

of the roads in a neutral space as depicted below.

Fig. 13 Carmel Byrne, Connells Point, 2007, pastel Fig. 14 Carmel Byrne, Peakhurst Heights, 2007,
on paper, 41 x 61 cm pastel on paper, 41 x 61 cm

I began to consider how my own psychological state affected my perception of land. This

brought into question what place is, whether it is solely in our minds, intermingled with our

own projections and perceptions. I also considered the notion that land has an intelligence

of its own, that it retains a memory of acts and events that have taken place on it.

22
The first approach to intertwine ribbon-like roads behind and in front of each other on

a neutral ground was abandoned, and in response I buried the roads into the ground of

the paintings. This move created a perceptual shift above the horizon line opening up to

an ambiguous ethereal space. The space above land is a neglected dimension in landscape

painting where the focus is primarily on land, as abstract painters, such as Fred Williams

(1927 - 1982) usually dispense with the horizon line. Whilst these MFA paintings also

forgo the horizon line, they do incorporate the elements that exist above the horizon such

as clouds, fog, rain, weather and climate.

Having buried the ribbon-like maps I began to develop new forms through the introduction

of meteorological symbols that indicate weather. I made a few drawings using different

weather indicators and was finally drawn to the following symbols that denote cloud

cover:

Fig. 15 Carmel Byrne, Cloud Chart, 2009, pastel on


paper, 66 x 63 cm

Cloud cover is measured by oktas where  equals clear sky,  equals 4/8ths cloud cover,
and l equals complete cloud cover. They are also a visual pun for stages of the moon that

suggest time and for Jungian mandalas to create a deeper psychological connection to the

practical material meaning.

23
The symbols tilt the paintings away from being solely landscape to sit somewhere between

nature and psychology. I liken this to Aboriginal painters where they understand land

through creation stories, and creation stories through land, where in an act of collective

memory they include cultural psychology in their art works. On a formalist level the

mandala-like forms provide a balance to the compositions.

Fig. 16 Carmel Byrne, Winter Cloud, 2010, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 61 cm

As the paintings evolved I spent more time building up the ground by layering thoughts

and paint in an attempt to pull together apparently disparate ideas and colours. The deeper

layers have a complex system of road maps and grids that are pulled up through the layers

until the cloud cover symbols are introduced and the roads begin to gradually dissipate.

The imagery that now develops is the meteorological symbols, a translucent ground, and

the maps are reasserted with a different approach in that they are scaled up, open, and

light in weight. This provides another shift to a visual plane sitting much closer to the

surface of the picture. The roads are reasserted as negative space where they partly erase

and overlay but do not obliterate thoughts and actions of previous layers. The final painted

layers are not only a compositional device but are also colloidal in that they are cloud-like

and sit in the space where weather unfolds.

24
Maps

Maps provide a rich vein of concepts and imagery to mine. The diversity of mapping

techniques and motivations range from the more conventional approach of cartography

and geographic information systems to the internet as a cultural map, to arts-driven

psychogeography where artists map systems and relationships rather than imagery, usually

in collaborative teams. Artists extend the concept of maps to include the psychological

terrain of memories, mental states, and futuristic visions (Harmon 10-16).

Tracks

In 1788, Australia was already a highly cultivated space. Aboriginal


occupation had created tracks and clearings . . . explorers and overlanders
entered a country replete with directions. . . channelled and grooved by
Aboriginal journeys.

(Carter, Road to Botany Bay 337)

Australian indigenous peoples’ ability to navigate through land, sighting often subtle

natural landmarks, is a skill early explorers didn’t possess. Europe, and the Americas, are

a different landscape and therefore a different skill-set was cultured. For example, rivers

on other continents usually run to a sea, whereas in Australia’s interior most peter out into

billabongs and swamps and then dry out. According to Carter this created in early settlers

an agoraphobic anxiety from the feeling of tracklessness where they couldn’t confidently

rely on water systems to take them to the safety of the edge where land meets the ocean

(Carter, Living in a New Country 182).

Nonetheless there were tracks in that landscape. Tracks that materialised from the

compression of feet. These tracks laid down by animals and humans inherently contain

information about the geography and the history of the land, therefore possessing a certain

intelligence. These tracks become a part of nature as:

25
Long-lasting as they were, they became one with the earth’s surface,
following in shape and observing its laws in the same way as other, less
durable features: plants, fences, and so forth.

(Santini 38)

Above the landscape weather forms ephemeral movement tracks. It is another dimension

that is a soft yet dynamic contrast to the solid earthy grid. The ephemeral qualities of

constant motion and change hold a range of possibilities in regard to rhythms and patterns

in the formation of land. I am part of that history in my attempt to create, record and

interpret the traces, as to “. . . let the shadow of one’s intention to fall across the track . . .

is to become part of the movement” (Carter, Dark Writing 7). That shadow of intention

includes personal and cultural psychology.

Maps

Maps are a… ‘stretch’ from the real, produced by a system of abstract


symbols.

(Pickles 61)

There has long been a symbiotic relationship between maps and land. Landscape, and

in turn maps, indicate topography, history, borders, and movement. Many indigenous

forms of mapping include dance and contain metaphorical information pertaining to the

spiritual domain. In an Australian indigenous context Aboriginal artists transferred and

reinvented an ancient tradition of mapping the landscape.

This is in contrast to the utilisation of maps in a Judeo-Christian context where maps

enable a control of land and provide a sense of power “. . . from which evolves a metaphoric

vocabulary of possession” (Andrews 77) through the demarcation of borders and

boundaries. In this context maps are a tool of power that enabled Europe, both physically

and psychologically, to colonise the ‘new world’.

26
Street maps are a combination of the organic where they are moved into shape by the

topography of the land, and the mechanical where they methodically identify property

boundaries. They are analogous to the Euclidean grid where the placement and shapes

of streets contain memories of colonial projection and the subsequent settlement in

this country. Nonetheless, undermining the modern structure of roads is the constant

movement and chaotic pattern of nature forever working its way back to the surface. This

image is analogous to the mapping process itself where content is transformed, overlaid

and reasserted as signs, patterns and symbols. The movement of deeper layers affect

the movement of latter layers like the slow-motion seismic dance between nature and

urbanisation.

Fig. 17 Carmel Byrne, a selection of the process images for Summer Scorcher, 2010, oil on linen, 137 x 183 cm

27
Chapter Five Painting

My research and study of sensual painters including Brice Marden and Sean Scully have

led to an approach to painting that alludes to the sense of touch. Marden and Scully have

developed separate techniques and vocabulary, however, their distinct approaches are both

layered and tactile. According to Brenda Richardson, Marden takes a Daoist approach

where he “. . . lays down one colour and then its opposite in a dance of yin and yang that

takes the painting to a place of chaos, from which it must be retrieved” (Richardson 103).

Scully also works with a complex system of colour manipulation on the canvas. However,

the brush stroke is a primary element in Scully’s paintings. Scully paints in layers and

he negates the movement of brushstrokes in previous layers by sanding the brushstrokes

back before continuing with the painting. This way they don’t interfere with new

movement created by more recent layers of brushstrokes. Scully describes that he wants

his brushstrokes to be “full of feeling; material feeling manifested in form and colour”

(Davis 143).

Layers

I describe my painting system as one that drills down as opposed to one that moves across

the surface of the canvas. Even though I work from the bottom up, the system is one that

works, conceptually, from the top down, through the layers of paint, colour, tone, and

brushwork.

Time, thoughts and actions give rise to emotions that are subtly inscribed in paint through

the slow building up of layers. This reflects a technique Mark Rothko (1903 - 1970) used

where he created an effect where “time stands still” when facing his paintings (Scully,

Resistance and Persistence 85). According to Gage, Rothko used a technique employed

by Titian, Rembrandt and Turner where he made layers of coloured glazes to create an

‘inner light’ in his paintings (Gage 107). The abstract forms seem to float and expand out

28
Fig. 18 Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1947, oil on canvas, 121 x 90 cm

Fig. 19 Rover Thomas, Nilah Marudji , 1996, natural pigments on


canvas, 120 x 120 cm

29
from the canvas whilst containing an internal light. Rover Thomas achieved a similar but

much more material effect via broad apparently empty spaces and thin layers of natural

pigment.

I use layering as a device to project a single moment that contains history. The final layers

in my works introduce a simple movement across the picture plane that creates an obscure

narrative drama. Despite the number of layers, sometimes up to eighty layers of paint, the

paintings have little visual compression. They aim to be light but they also need to retain

a palpable weight. The light in the painting is apparent and it is free to move around as

it is reflected and refracted through the surface, in part due to the preparation of a hard

gesso ground.

I intend for the light to bounce around within the paintings before it is reflected directly

back into three-dimensional space; that is, the space between the painting and the

audience. With Rothko’s paintings we tend to fall into the two-dimensional space of

the paintings; with these works I want the paintings to reach out into the space that the

observer occupies.

Ground

In order to achieve this I prepare a ground that reflects light back into three-dimensional

space. I purchase already primed canvas or linen and then apply another two coats of

gesso. I then apply two coats of oil primer to get a hard and resistant surface. I want the

ground to reflect as much light back as possible with little absorption. This helps give the

paintings clarity.

After priming the canvas I begin with lean layers of oil paint in patterns that depict

elements of weather: rain, snow, cloud, wind, and sunshine. I slowly build up layers that

become a dance between positive and negative, edges, and tones. I continue until the

surface coalesces into one integrated plane and then I lay down the final layer which is the

30
colour that suggests the climate or season or weather and emotional timbre of the work.

The perspective lifts off the surface of the canvas and the scale allows for a more abstracted

movement that both reveals and conceals the layers beneath.

Scully describes his working method as taking a simple subject and giving it a compressed

complex history, by being over-painted in uncertain colours (Resistance and Persistence

121). I try to create a history in the paintings but because my intentions differ where the

perspective is concerned, it is not so much a compressed history but an open and light one

that is nevertheless complex in structure.

Space

Space in these paintings is reminiscent of cartoon space due to a personal aesthetic, having

grown up on Warner Bros. cartoons that were flat, with blocks of colour. This spatial

attraction to cartoon-like form and the shallow space of modern abstract art reflects a

deeper psychological link between the culture of my childhood and my current occupation

as a painter.

Generally the space in these paintings is flat, however, brushwork plays a major part in

achieving a physical presence. I keep the edge of the paintings open to avoid the use of a

closed frame. This is similar to an approach developed by the New York School where they

Fig. 20 Carmel Byrne, Spring Rain, 2009, oil on canvas, 137 x 183 cm

31
broke up closed forms to articulate the entire pictorial area with equal activity (Wood

28). There is some compression in the paintings but it lies in the underlayers that are

compact in the formal relationships. The final layers contradict this compact space by

lifting the perspective into space. There is also a mix of profile and plan perspectives in the

paintings where the meteorological symbols are in profile and the final road map layers

are in plan.

Colour

Colours are powers to produce sensations.

(John Locke, cited in Hyman 46)

John Gage explains that the retina records and transmits sensation, not perception,

and that colour is first and foremost a question of psychology (8). The underpainting in

this series of paintings is laid down in bright and saturated colour. This is similar to the

technique used by Roman painters of Pompeii where they overlaid a less vivid over a

more vivid colour (Gage 16). The initial layers of the paintings presented are bright and

saturated colour. As the paintings evolve and as the contrasting cool and warm tones or

complementary colours build up, the final layers become less saturated in chroma and

consequently less vivid. The underlying colour then plays a subtle role in colour rhythm.

I work with either alternative colour mixing through layers, where I would lay down a

colour and then another layer of its complementary opposite, or mix a grey made from

complementary colours that is then mixed into a pure colour to desaturate it. Usually

when mixing greys my focus is whether it should be a warm or cool grey and the tonal

steps in relation to the layer being directly overpainted. I also lay down alternate layers

of the one colour where a layer is a cool yellow, for example, and the next layer is a warm

yellow. It is challenging to find the right weight for a colour. The weight determines the

balance in tone and contrast for the paintings.

32
The tonal steps are important and the most difficult to achieve. In each layer the tone

steps either up or down. The final layer is like a haze; an overlay of clouds that conceals

and reveals, and the tone is usually a strong contrast to the ground. On some layers I paint

wet-into-wet but mostly spend time mixing colours on the palette in response to the layer

beneath. I keep detailed notes on how I mixed colours.

Fig. 21 Carmel Byrne, Studio Notebook, 2010

A lot of colour mixing also happens via light within the painting as it moves through

semi-transparent layers. I mix a colour in response to the colour where it is going to be

applied and that invents or reinvents another colour altogether.

Brushwork

Paint strokes are very crucial to an understanding of my work. They don’t


simply describe the form in my work, they affirm the human spirit.

(Scully, Resistance and Persistence 25)

Sean Scully pays close attention to his brushwork and according to his studio assistant

Dean Monogenis, his brushstroke is considered his signature.13 Scully paints primarily

13
I visited Sean Scully’s New York studio in October 2009.

33
wet-into-wet and Monogenis explained the way in which he constructs his paintings as:

“sometimes they are very transparent almost like a wash or a varnish at the beginning

and then he’ll build them up but his is all wet-

on-wet so he just keeps adding on top of wet

paint, you know, he doesn’t wait for things to

dry.” If the paint does dry and he needs to keep

working on the painting he sands back the

ridges of his brushstrokes to negate movement

that doesn’t match brushstrokes that need to be


Fig. 22 Sean Scully, Angel, detail, 1983
overlaid.

Brice Marden has a different approach to

applying paint where he paints lean and scrapes

down surfaces between successive applications

of colour where, “the complex result is more a

matter of an optics of hue and value than of

a textured physicality” (Shiff 36). Nonetheless

the paintings have a strong physical presence

through a mix of richly coloured but worn Fig. 23 Brice Marden, Orange, Rocks, Red Ground (3),
detail, 2000-2002

down surfaces. Marden sands back the surfaces

to eradicate brush strokes.

The surface of my MFA paintings are built up

by alternating between scumbled layers of paint

and layers of glazes, which is a combination of

what I understand to be Brice Marden’s and Sean

Scully’s techniques. I use rags, scrapers, and

sandpaper to take the paint back to minimalise

ridges in the brushwork and continue layering Fig. 24 Carmel Byrne, Cloud Clearing, detail, 2008

34
paint until the surface has reached a luminous and transparent quality. I emphasise the

brushstrokes in the final layers.

Animation

As I work I take a digital recording of each layer of paint on each canvas. I then crop and

drop the images in sequence into Final Cut Pro to make a stop-motion film that suspends

the work in a time-based format so that the images are again subjected to linear time. The

stop-motion film shows the development of the paintings to reveal the temporal nature of

the work. This is a move against the final moment of a painting when it comes to a point

where it is suspended in time, projecting the history of the journey. The film revisits the

linear time context in which the paintings existed in order to evolve.

35
Chapter Six Conclusion

All that we see dissipates, moves on. Nature is always the same, but
nothing of her remains, nothing of what appears before us. Our art must
provide some fleeting sense of her permanence, with the essence, the
appearance of her changeability.

Paul Cezanne, 1878.

When I first started this MFA I thought my paintings were about land. I now think they

are about coding and decoding the world around me. Nonetheless, landscape and maps

are a rich metaphor on which to build a symbolic and empirical language in response to

material and psychological environments. Research into ideas proposed by thinkers, in

particular Paul Carter, Sean Scully, and Barbara Stafford, has broadened my art practice to

apply knowledge that explicitly considers the significance of the material and the sublimity

of the connectedness of everything. This period of study has provided the psychological

space to develop concepts and apply it to painting.

Through the research for this thesis I discovered an analogous connection between the

comparatively recent development14 of abstract imagery produced early on by European

abstractionists and Aboriginal desert painters in that they share a similar philosophical

grounding depicted in their work. It is not so much that Aboriginal painters produce

abstract imagery similar to Modern Abstractionists but conversely, it was the Modern

Abstract movement that produced imagery similar to Aboriginal art.15 This is due to the

expression of an abstract concept of the spiritual, which was a new notion for the early

Modern Abstractionists, as opposed to the separation and personification of a ‘God’ that

is so evident in medieval and representational religious painting.

14
A recent development or perhaps recovery for western artists as ancient European culture produced abstract
imagery.
15
This parallels similarities between modern physics and ancient Asian philosophies such as Advaita.

36
My painting skills have developed where I have learnt to constrain the viscosity of the

oil paint to maintain a lightness of touch that is slowly built up to coalesce into a solid

yet translucent finish. My colour knowledge has deepened through research of painting

practise, in particular Sean Scully’s and Brice Marden’s. Through this knowledge I

developed the practise of responding to colour already laid down on the canvas.

Another development in my painting practise is the shift away from the grid. To raise the

perspective to the space above land opens the work out to distinct pictorial permutations

in rhythm and movement. I will pursue this territory for my next series of work and will

focus more on the painterly aspects of painting and downplay the psychological imagery

by burying it back into the ground of the paintings as I did with the original maps for this

series of work.

Underpinning my art practice is a philosophy open to unlimited possibilities for

imaginative invention that is solidly grounded by the more material experience of

sensation. Ironically, it is the concreteness of material that maintains the momentum for

making art as a spiritual pursuit. All in the name of the primal human impulse to know

and understand oneself and our connection to the world.

37
Acknowledgements

A sincere thank you to Peter Sharp for his enthusiam for this project and his constant

availability.

38
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Appendices
Appendix I
Chart prepared by Alfred H. Barr. The chart was used for the dust jacket of the
exhibition catalogue Cubism and Abstract Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1936.

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Appendix II
This is a condensed version of Katinka Hesselink’s Inventory of the influence of the
Theosophical Society. The full version can be found at http://www.katinkahesselink.net/
his/influence-theosophy.html.

Inventory of the influence of the Theosophical Society

Writers
Lyman Frank Baum (1851 –1919), American author of The Wizard of Oz.
Robert Duncan (1919 – 1988), American poet, (Source: wikipedia).
William Butler Yeats (1865 –1939), Anglo-Irish poet and playwright.
George W. Russell (1867 –1935), Irish poet, painter, and agricultural expert.
Talbot Mundy (1879 –1940).
Sir Edwin Arnold, British author of The Light of Asia and The Song Celestial.
Lewis Carroll (1832 –1898), author of the Alice books, Sylvie and Bruno, etc.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard, English novelist, King Solomon’s Mines, She, etc. (1856 –1925).
Maurice Maeterlinck (1862 –1949), Belgian Symbolist poet, playwright, and novelist.
Algernon Blackwood (1869 –1951), writer on the supernatural and mystery tales.
Jack London (1876 –1916), American novelist.
E. M. Forster (1879 –1970), English novelist, Passage to India, etc.
James Joyce (1882 –1941), Irish novelist, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake.
D. H. Lawrence (1885 –1930), English novelist.
T. S. Eliot (1888 –1965), Anglo-American poet and critic.
Henry Miller (1891 –1980), Bohemian autobiographical novelist.
John Boyton Priestley (1894 –1984), English novelist and playwright.
Thornton Wilder (1897 –1975), American novelist and playwright.
Kurt Vonnegut (b. 1922), Jr., American author of satirical novels of social criticism.
Sir Thomas (Tom) Stoppard (b. 1937), Czech-born playwright.

Architects
Claude Bragdon (1866 –1946), American architect and author.
Walter Burley Griffin (1876 –1937), American architect and city planner.

Scientists and Inventors


Sir William Crookes (1832 –1919), theoretical physicist.
Thomas Edison (1847 –1931), American inventor of the electric light, phonograph, etc.
Rupert Sheldrake (b. 1942), British biologist and proposer of morphogenetic fields.
Camille Flammarion (1842 –1925), French astronomer.
Baroness Jane Goodall (b. 1934), scientist working with chimpanzees, Theosophical
connection acknowledged in her recent book Reason for Hope.

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Psychologists
Roberto Assagioli 1888 - 1974) Italian psychologist, humanist, and visionary.
William James, philosopher and psychologist.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875 –1961), founder of analytical psychology. Was not interested in
Blavatsky, Leadbeater or Besant, but was in frequent contact with G.R.S. Mead - after
the latter had left the Theosophical Society in 1909.

Painters and other Artists


Rukmini Devi Arundale: Revitalized Indian arts, especially dance and music.
Hilma af Klint, abstract painter.
Piet Mondriaan (1872 –1944, Dutch painter, Member of the Theosophical Society.
Beatrice Wood (1893 –1998), ceramicist.
Paul Gauguin (1848 –1903), French post impressionist.
Vassily Kandinsky (1866 –1944), Russian founder of nonobjectivist art. Influenced by
theosophy, not a member.
Gutzon Borglum (1867 –1941), monumental sculptor of the Mount Rushmore
presidential heads.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 –1926), Scottish art nouveau architect and designer.
Paul Klee (1879 –1940), Swiss artist of Der Blaue Reiter and the Bauhaus School.
Nicholas Roerich (1874 –1947), Russian mystical artist.

Musicians
Cyril Scott (1879 –1970), composer and author.
Gustav Mahler (1860 –1911), symphonic composer.
Jean Sibelius (1865 –1957), Finnish musical composer.
Alexander Nikolaievitch Scriabin (1872 –1915), Russian composer.
Elvis Presley (1935 –1977), American rock and roll musician.

Politicians
Allan Octavian Hume (1829 –1912), British administrator in India, one of the founders of
the Indian National Congress.
Alfred Deakin (1856 –1919), framer of Australian Federation and Prime Minister of
Australia.
Henry Wallace (1888 –1965), Vice President of the United States.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 –1964), first Prime Minister of India, 1947–64.
George Lansbury (1859 –1940), leader of British Labour party, 1931–5.

Feminists
Clara Codd , A feminist who was imprisoned in England.
Matilda Joslyn Gage (1815 –1902), American feminist and coauthor with Elizabeth Cady
Stanton and Susan B. Anthony of the History of Woman Suffrage.
Gloria Steinem (b. 1934), American writer and feminist, editor of Ms., Theosophical
influence acknowledged in an interview in Jewish News.

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A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited
in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as
something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires
and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free
ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace
all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of
a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they
have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new
manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

Albert Einstein, 1954.

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