Painting and Exoplanets: reconsidering our place in the cosmos
Making something visible and material out of what is inherently invisible is the paradox behind this project: these planets are simply too far away to be seen. In practice this will comprise a series of large-scale circular paintings, five feet in diameter, using oil and mineral powders on canvas.
The work for this project emerged from my current Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residency in the Astrophysics Department at Exeter University. I worked closely with Professor Isabelle Baraffe and her colleagues who are undertaking pioneering research into Exoplanets, searching for life beyond our solar system. The discovery of these distant planets will potentially revolutionise the way we view our place in the universe, perhaps as significant a discovery as ‘Big Bang’, Darwin's origin of species or deciphering the human genome. The scientists feel the impact of this fast developing field has not registered with the public and welcomed more exposure through such a collaboration.
As a painter I aim to interpret in a visceral way the historical and philosophical implications of their work. The work in process is informed both by my interviews in the department and by my longstanding painting practice. What is compelling about this project is precisely that disciples might be seen to be contradictory: the one inherently abstract in its hypothesis and the other driven by process and material concerns, it was exciting to discover common ground, in our approach and methodology. It was liberating that there are no visual images of these worlds as they are too distant and so all I had to work with is raw data and my conversations with the physicists.
As you will see this current work stems from my established painting practice, for the last several years I have been working on imaging the sea through a combination of paint and iridescent pigments. In the same way as the seas, the planets are not representational of specific place but aim to be universal. I continually strive to pare my work back to the essence of the subject and discard the detail. In this way I hope the paintings will communicate on a more visceral level with their audience.