patterns in nature: a visionary approach

As a visual artist, I have always been fascinated by forms – the shapes of things – and the feelings and sensations that those forms elicit. In 1970, while living in Italy, I came across the recently translated Italian publication of D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form: The Geometry of Nature. Intrigued by its diagrams of bones and warped grids, water droplets and jellyfish, I struggled to understand their meaning. What I absorbed from his book – that the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces’, that the form of living organisms must conform to the laws of physics – cooked in me for years, while I continued my career as a designer of costumes and museum exhibitions. Fifteen years later, Peter Stevens’ book, Patterns in Nature, re-ignited my interest in morphology. I was amazed that a set of relatively few basic patterns, combined in various ways, could produce the almost infinite variety of things, living and non-living, in the universe.

Since 1999, I have painted primarily to explore the infinite worlds of nature, both the world around me and the one within the psyche. My initial inspiration frequently comes from observing and studying the forms and patterns of nature: human blood vessels and nervous systems, snakes, cells and DNA, whirlpools and galaxies, spirals and waves, and especially plants. Most recently, thanks to hundreds of microscopy images on websites like Nikon’s Small World (www.nikonsmallworld.com) and Olympus’ Bioscapes (www.olympusbioscapes.com), there is enough inspiration to last a hundred lifetimes.

But my intention as an artist is not to record, copy, document nature - I am not a scientific illustrator – but to use organic forms as objects of contemplation and visioning. As microscopist France Bourély writes in Hidden Beauty: Microworlds Revealed, “contemplation is crucial;” even researchers in molecular biology must have “one eye for knowledge, one for gratefulness.” In my work as an artist, the expression of gratefulness, awe, beauty weighs heavier than the need for factual knowledge.

While I may start with a human body or a wavy line or a schematic drawing of a cell, I purposively do not plan my paintings. As I paint, one form often metamorphoses into another: a leaf becomes part human; a cocoon or pod becomes a womb for humans and replicates itself into a fractal network; leaves sprout thorns; and, a cell membrane becomes the skin of a human body or even the container of breath and words. Thus my paintings are visionary: depicting what the psyche remembers, imagines, and feels, rather than what the physical eye alone sees or what the logical mind accepts. While I paint, the boundaries between forms begin to dissolve, and I discover the fluidity of mutations, the ease with which complexity builds, and how interconnected are nature and the human mind, my own mind.

As my mind journeys inward and outward, the brush in my hand spontaneously deposits the images that my mind receives, until the painting is complete. Being surprised by the unfolding of an imaginary universe populated with gloriously colorful organic forms, brings me the greatest pleasure. It is what motivates me as an artist.