The Mathematics of Expressionist Painting - Andy McClintock
Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein – Gordon Weir
Manchester artist David Hancock talks about his Cosplay paintings
Long Walk to Freedom – The Journey Begins – Graham Clark
Marilyn and Edith, A Meeting of Minds – Cathy Bell
OF EXPRESSIONIST PAINTING
In 1994 my friend Bob visited me at our new home on the Holy Loch in Western Scotland. A chance conversation established that I was re-reading James Gleick’s popular science book “Chaos”. Chaos theory was a mathematical discovery which had only emerged once powerful digital computers had become widely available. It established that it was impossible to predict most individual events except in a statistical sense. Since then it’s had a huge effect on disciplines as diverse as mathematical modelling, biology, weather forecasting, economics, medicine and engineering. Imagine my surprise when Bob immediately asked if I knew about Lewis Fry Richardson’s experiments which involved throwing parsnips which he had grown in his garden off the local pier! It turned out that this chap Richardson had become known as the father of modern weather forecasting. Retiring to Kilmun in the 1940’s he had been studying currents in sea to test what became the Richardson fluid dynamics number. Parsnips floated and could be seen at distance through a theodolite and measurements taken of how they diverge from each other. In the course of his studies Richardson had also asked “How long is the coastline of Britain?” The answer that he got was that it depended on the length of the measuring rod that you used! Questioning conventional thinking about measurement of all sorts of things particularly in the then very new science of the very small. What was amazing to me was that where he had lived had been two doors down from our new home!
After Richardson died his work was picked up by Charles Mandelbrot, the man who gave his name to Fractal Geometry. Fractals are Patterns which are generated by repeating calculations in very simple equations over and over again using computers to do the heavy lifting. They directly link to “chaos theory” and indeed are pictorial expressions of it. They occur throughout nature in the branching structure of trees, in cauliflower heads, in mountain ranges etc. Although the original patterns are very regular they never repeat, are very beautiful and enormously complex when generated by computer. In nature however they are exposed to other chance disturbances such as erosion in mountains, and irregular branching in trees. They are at their perhaps most perfect in cauliflowers.
One of the most complex phenomenon in the universe has its roots in the very simple; the flow of liquids and gasses. The next time you look at a waterfall or study the ever changing patterns in the clouds you are privileged to see this. Artists love painting clouds and waterfalls for this reason. Change is everywhere. This is where fractals
meet chance and uncertainty. In the case of weather forecasting it makes long term prediction virtually impossible. It’s just too complex, but oh so simple at the same time. That is the universe that we live in! Richardson touched on this in his studies in Kilmun. He even tried to apply mathematics to predict why countries went to war. This was a glorious failure. But that was where Mandelbrot was given inspiration posthumously by Richardson. Richardson was trying to measure the lengths of frontiers. Many were man made lines on a map. But the coastline of Britain was not, it was fractal.
And so to art. Perhaps to people involved in crafts, perfection could be considered to have been a sacred goal for millennia. Similarly in much Greek art. Things only changed dramatically with the emergence of impressionist painters in France. And for many painters today this is seldom so. Chance is commonly allowed to play its part. For years people puzzled why they found Jackson Pollock’s work so beautiful knowing how he made it by walking about throwing and dribbling paint seemingly randomly in many colours!
Now we know it was a combination of fractal and chance. His gestural body movements produced beautiful art. The fractal component producing satisfying complex patterns, while the random effects stopped us becoming bored when looking for a long time at his work. Much expressionist painting is like this but so is a watercolour wash. Too uniform, boring, too uneven, lack of competence, in the hands of an expert, sublime. But no two washes are alike. It’s that expert combination of gesture and very light touch and control when applying the paint. Life studies also betray this. You need a flowing line but one which also expresses the exquisite imperfections that make the human body so fascinating. I have been constantly frustrated by trying to teach amateur painters that by copying pretty details of a larger painting you seldom learn anything. You need to understand the work as a whole and if possible the artist’s intentions and whole approach to the painting to learn anything. Similarly beginners often try to rework details in their paintings without realising that this means that they have to rework the whole canvas if it is not to look awkward. An exercise that I find fun is to take a photograph of a painting and chop it into fragments. A good painting should yield many pleasing abstract paintings in their own right.
NIELS BOHR AND ALBERT EINSTEIN
The fifth Solvay Conference, named after the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay, began in Brussels in September 1927. Present were the leading physicists of the day, including Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli. The main talking point of the conference was to be the relatively new subject of quantum mechanics and, as such, signalled the continuation of a discussion between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein regarding the former’s theory of complementarity. The Theory of Complementarity states that particles, such as electrons, have pairs of properties that are unable to be measured or observed at the same time. Essentially, this means that if we are able to measure a property such as momentum accurately, then we cannot accurately measure the same particle’s position. Einstein did not agree; and as it turned out this would be by no means the last theory of quantum mechanics that he would have problems with despite the fact that Bohr would even use Einstein’s own theory of relativity to prove a point related to complementarity. Einstein’s problem was one of classical physics, visualisation and causality against the strange, at times weird, theories governing the quantum world. Saying, “there is a good chance this may be the case”, was not good enough for Einstein.
In order to prove his point that two quantum measurements could be made accurately at the same time, Einstein came up with a series of ‘thought experiments’ that he put to Bohr as proof that his theory of complementarity, or Copenhagen interpretation, was flawed. In one experiment (see picture below), Einstein asked Bohr to consider a box which had inside it a clock connected to a small shutter. The box is then filled with photons and weighted. At a known time, a single photon is allowed to escape through the clock activated shutter. The box is then re-weighed and by Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2, the exact energy of the photon can be calculated. Thus, the time of release and the energy of the photon have been measured accurately at the same time; in violation of Bohr’s complementarity theory and energy-time complimentary pair uncertainty relationship.
Bohr’s response the following day, made reference to a box, with clock and shutter inside the box as Einstein had described, but suspended by a spring. On the stand supporting the box, was a pointer and scale to indicate the box’s rest or starting position. Finally, a changeable small weight, used to return the box to its starting position when the weight inside the box changed, was suspended from the bottom of the box. Any change in weight could easily, once more, be converted into lost (or gained) energy by Einstein’s equation. Bohr’s argument was that in trying to adjust the size of the weight the box would be subject to moving up and down before eventually settling, once the correct weight was in place and the pointer was pointing at the rest position. According to Einstein’s own Theory of General Relativity, the movement of the box in this way, and therefore the clock, both within a gravitational field, meant that the time measured by the clock in the box was now uncertain in that the clock in the box would measure time more slowly than a clock at rest and within the observer’s own reference frame. The longer it takes to get the right weight in position, the worse things get. This meant that to get an accurate measurement for energy, which meant spending a lot of time getting the weight just right, the time of release was now uncertain due to time dilation. Bohr had won round one!
Einstein’s latest challenge to Bohr was with the collaboration of Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, hence the challenge is known as the EPR Paradox.
To begin with, imagine two particles that interact with one another before flying off in opposite directions without interacting with anything else. Quantum mechanics allows us to measure the total momentum of the two particles. Since momentum is conserved, this means that at any time later, measuring one particles momentum will automatically give us the momentum of the other. In the same way, measuring the distance between the particles when close together is also allowed, and, in the same way, knowing the position of one we can know the position of the other. If we now measure the first particles position, we will, by the uncertainty principle, interfere with, and therefore not know, the same particles momentum. But the momentum can already be known by having, at the same time, measured the momentum of the second particle. The result is that the position and momentum of the first particle is known at the same time. This was the EPR stance. What the Copenhagen Interpretation said was that because the particles had the same origin, they were connected in such a way that any measurement carried out on one particle is somehow felt by the other; known as ‘action at a distance.’ The EPR response was that, ‘no reasonable definition of reality could be expected to permit this.’
In the years since, first Einstein’s death in 1955, followed 7 years later by Bohr’s death, many experimenters have validated Bohr’s claims. The term used to describe the connection between two particles that have the same origin is Quantum Entanglement. No matter what the distance is between the two particles they always have to be considered as one entity, in other words one particle cannot undergo a process without affecting the other.
This means that when a property of one particle is measured, say position, this then makes the momentum of the same particle unable to be measured at the same time, it also means that the momentum of the second particle is also disturbed and therefore not able to be used in any way to measure the first particles momentum. The result is that the EPR paradox has failed and Bohr has once again shown that the Copenhagen Interpretation is intact.
Einstein, it seems, never came to terms with the uncertainty and strangeness of quantum mechanics and Bohr, although confident of his Copenhagen Interpretation, was never completely sure that someone somewhere, just like Einstein had done before, would come up with what would prove to be its downfall. Bohr continued to work on problems posed by Einstein right up until his death. His final blackboard (see below), discovered the morning after his death, shows that Bohr was still working on one such challenge.
Finally, one of the best known theoretical experiments, regarding The Copenhagen Interpretation is called Schrodinger’s Cat. A cat is sealed in a box with a phial of poison and some radioactive material. The radioactive material decays at random intervals so there is no way of knowing when it will spontaneously decay. The decay is detected by a Geiger counter that will then activate a hammer to break the phial. The experiment was to last one hour and during this time there was no way of knowing the cat’s fate. The cat existed in a state of being both alive and dead at the same time. It was only when the box was opened and the cat was observed, that the cat was forced to take one of its two states.
COSPLAY - DAVID HANCOCK
Cosplay can be described as a type of performance art in which “cosplayers” wear costumes to represent a character thus creating an interactive sub-culture based on role-play. Subjects are mostly sourced from Manga cartoons, comic books, video games and live-action films. David Hancock works in watercolour and pencil crayon to create photo-realist portraits of people and characters involved in this complex and increasingly popular activity.
Hancock’s engagement with the subject is best explained by the artist himself. Cathy Bell asked him some questions about his work
C.B. Who chooses the pose the characters adopt?
D.H. The cosplayers generally do. They are based on the poses of the characters they represent. It is a way of getting them into character; re-enacting their mannerisms. In the larger paintings, I ask the cosplayers to find an environment where the character would feel comfortable.
C.B. In the double portraits are the characters interacting with each other?
D.H. The characters are from the same text so there is a relationship between them and being paired strengthens their immersion. In Advent Children I positioned the models on either side of a small lake. I try to leave as much white space as possible to suggest how locations and objects drift in and out of the fantasy.
C.B. Is it only the dressing up that interests you about the sitters or are you interested in them out of character as well? For example, the painting The Down (Siobhan & Courtney) seems to show two women who are not in cosplay costumes.
D.H. I only depict cosplayers when they are in “cos”. In The Down they are in cos: however, the characters are the cosplayers own characters that they have created themselves, which is maybe why they look different from some of the others.
C.B. Another thing I detect from the work is the gender aspects within it. For example, some of the females are posed kneeling, teetering on the edge and in the case of Resident Evil the girl is shown hiding and terrified under a table. The males on the other hand seem stronger. There are some stronger looking females too and in the case of Advent Children III it is difficult to say whether I am looking at two men, two women or a man and a woman. Is this deliberate?
D.H. I think this is more to do with the characters. What is interesting about cosplay is that it is so female centric, it is estimated that 80-90% of cosplayers are female. From my research, a large number of females I have interviewed are in a same-sex relationship. For many women, the way female characters are represented in games and sci-fi films is unrepresentative. Cosplay, therefore, allows females to re-imagine the objects of their fandom in their own image, removed from the objectifying male gaze.
C.B. Do some of the large paintings have deeper meanings than the small portrait heads, for example?
D.H. Yes, I am able to play with the surface of the paint more. I use the drips to mark the difference between the reality and fantasy in the cosplayer’s world.
C.B. Is it important to you to document the current trend of cosplay?
D.H. I am interested in how cosplay goes beyond other subcultures in building an identity. Cosplayers are able to take on a whole other persona and “road test” it; literally taking on the characters characteristics and trying them out.
C.B. I feel the paintings are sociologically relevant to the times. Do you agree and is this what you want from them?
D.H. What is interesting about cosplay is that it takes archaic practices, such as making costumes and props, and uses these to represent our immersivity into digital platforms. They also bring these interactions back into the actual world, and their primary social interactions are in person, face-to-face. It’s almost a seamless merging of the digital and analogue.
Ukuhamba isikhathi eside ukuya enkululekweni
LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
- the journey begins
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Oliver Tambo airport”
After nearly 11 hours in the air and 50 years in the making, that wonderful welcome rang out to signal the start of a lifelong dream and an opportunity to experience South Africa for the first time.
As I breathed in the air walking down the steps of the aircraft my heart filled with emotion and as I stepped onto the airfield the tears flowed with such joy and happiness and my head was spinning with excitement. My long journey to South Africa was just about to open up a whole new experience in a country I had dreamed of since a boy.
My journey started when I was 12 years old when my father returned from sailing around the Cape of Good hope and presented me with a gift of 50 Rand to add to my coin collection.
Little was I to know that the 50 Rand would start a journey which would take half a century to fulfil and now, it seemed like I had awoken from a dream and touched the impossible. Standing in a country with such high hope for the future with a strength and determination to be united, the emotion was overwhelming and I felt I was not visiting for the first time but, I was coming home. A journey to seek the past, embrace the hope and strength of the present and be part of the dreams of the future.
Foreign lands seem so distant when you are 12 years old but my father’s stories made me want to learn much more. He spoke of the riches, the diamonds, the people, the culture, the food, the wildlife and the oceans and as he regaled about the view from table top mountain he continued to enthuse and excite. He turned my monochrome images into colour, made the experience alive and in my mind, a dream was forming and an ambition to experience these for myself and then, he introduced me to a new word - apartheid and a new person, Rolihlahla or better known as Nelson Mandela.
He then spoke of the challenges facing South Africa, the separation of their peoples, the rules of apartheid and I began to wonder why?
At 12 years of age what did I know of the world and I certainly could not comprehend the connection between apartheid and Nelson Mandela and as I learned, he had already been in prison 10 years at this point and it would be another 17 years before he would enjoy the freedom we all take for granted and walk again amongst his people and complete his own long walk to freedom.
But my dream had begun so I followed South African life, politics, discussions. I had learned so much of the people, the country and Nelson Mandela I wanted my voice to be heard so in 1988 joined the Nelson Mandela Freedom March at a rally in Glasgow. With my banner and a loud voice “Free Mandela” you could feel that change was in the air.
Then at last, On the 11th of February 1990, after 27 years imprisonment, Nelson Mandela finally Walked to freedom to the sound of his people cheering and in the back ground the music from John Newton’s Amazing Grace.
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”
Nelson Mandela had come home.
The first place Nelson Mandela visited on being freed was the small humble home he shared with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase, at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West Soweto (see above).
Visiting his home was always the centre point of his world and only after release when he returned there, he truly felt free of the prison shackles that incarcerated him. So what better a tribute to the great man than to start our journey where it all began.
Standing in his bedroom, his sitting room and kitchen I felt so humble, but could feel that this was a happy home despite the regime that enslaved many.
It took four trips to South Africa over a period of three years to experience more and to embrace the opportunity to work with and teach the youth of South Africa to help them find their own voice.
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”
This is only the beginning of an exciting journey and in my next part I will look at a beautiful South Africa as one of the most inviting, welcoming countries on the continent with a fascinating wealth of history.
As we follow the long walk to freedom we will travel by road across South Africa, swim with the penguins in Simon’s Town, view south Africa from the top of the world and experience a journey of a lifetime.
We will finally look at a piece of art below which represents the most exciting journey of them all, the one made by Nelson Mandela, and a tribute to his long walk to freedom.
To Be Continued………..
MARILYN AND EDITH
The poet and writer Dame Edith Sitwell was born in 1887 into a late-Victorian world. She was a member of an aristocratic family, her mother being a descendant of the Plantagenets, her father was Sir George Sitwell, 4th Baronet of Renishaw Hall. Edith had an unhappy childhood with little love and affection given by her parents whom she described as being “strangers” to her and vice-versa. Her love-life was no less troublesome, she fell in love first with Siegfried Sassoon the war poet, then later with the Russian artist Pavel Tchelitchew . Since both men were gay so their romantic feelings towards her were never reciprocated, however, both men stayed in her life as friends and supporters of her poetry.
Although not conventionally beautiful, Edith was a striking looking person, at six-feet tall and with strong, angular features she was unconventionally attractive.