Art and Science

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1. Primaries and Secondaries 2006

polichrome relief 60 x 60 x 10cm

 

 

Ever since I was a boy I have  had a passionate interest in various aspects of science. Encouraged by Dad, (who, when he was a boy, had a chemistry laboratory in a disused pigsty) I had a corner for a bench and shelves with equipment for my experiments. The secondary school was also well equiped with a bench for each student and I watched with fascination the demonstrations offered by our chemistry and physics teachers.

When I was a student at Wigan School of Art I went downstairs to the geology department to do a petrology course. I loved seeing the transformations of the colours of mineral sections as I rotated the microscope's polarizing filter.

From Leonardo onwards many painters have been interested in scientific topics. Paul Kle's The Thinking Eye is practically a scientific manual on art. As a student I particularly remember the section on colour theory.

 In 1999 I wrote a book Biochem, English for Italian students specializing in science at high school, published by Zanichelli. It is also used by medical students at Milan University.

My relief Primaries and Secondaries plays with the basic geometrical figures with the three primary and three secondary colours.

2. Explosion of the Cube 2013

oil on marouflaged panel 98 x 58cm

 

 

 

 

 

Explosion of the Cube combines my researches on various aspects of the cube with volcanology. My memories of Sicilian images imprisoned in a cube explode like an eruption of Etna.

 

 

3. Girl-House Metamorphosis 1998

oil on marouflaged panel 80 x 50cm

 

 

 

Girl-House Metamorphosis explores a psychological concept connected with dreams where the divide between one interpretation and another of reality falls apart. A dream image transforms itself and can be more than one thing at the same moment.

 

 

4. Corpus Domini: I Cutri 2012

oil on canvas 100 x 100cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corpus Domini: Cutri shows, like Cezanne, the geometrical structure of nature. In this case, however, nature is a sicilian courtyard in an unusual perspective. The colours on the balconies derive from the ancient tradition of hanging out the best bedcovers for festas.

 

 

 

5. Astronomer's Sky 1963

 oil on canvas 45 x 61cm

 

 

 

In the nineteen sixties on the island of Ibiza there was very little street illumination. On my return from the port late in the evening I walked in the dark along the beach Playa d'en Bossa and looked upwards to the sky. The stars were bright and clear without a trace of haze. On a hilly ridge above the town there was a private villa with an astronomical observatory. I had a happy feeling of being near the stars.

 

 

6. Experiment and Spanish Assemblage 1965

oil on canvas 91 x 71cm

 

 

 

Besides experimenting in my little chemical lab and doing practical work at school under the guidance of the chemistry teacher, I studied the history of science. In 1774 Joseph Priestley was the first to separate oxygen and a vivid memory associated with this event was a demonstration at school using a retort with a long neck sloping downwards, an image I have used several times in my paintings.

 

 

 

7. Il Pensatore (ritratto di Prof. Carlo Amata 1986

oil on canvas 70 x 80cm

A day in 1986 I received a visit at my Sicilian studio from the physics teacher Carlo Amata. A very dynamic personality, he flew a small single-seated plane which I often saw circling in the sky between the sea and the Nebrodi mountains.

        He commissioned a portrait of himself and I decided to include details of one of his interesting experiments. He projected a laser beam from the terrace of his villa to that of his neighbour and he traced the path of its aberration on a sheet of graph paper over 24 hours.  

        The result was an oval ring and not a circle as it should have been according to Einstein's theory. Carlo was an active member of the Association of Italian Physicists but encountered many obstacles on publishing his results. These were created by the scientific establishment intent on preserving university posts obtained on the bandwagon of Einstein theories by then fossilized and unquestionable. 

 

 

8. Shrine to Geometry 1989

oil on canvas 60 x 80cm

 

 

A passion for geometry may develop with fervour almost religious in character. I imagined an altar on which a ritual would be possible using the purity of the basic figures and solids.

 

9. Group and Air Pump 1992

oil on canvas 60 x 80cm

 

 

 

Within a structure different from the original I painted a homage to the English painter Joseph Wright of Derby. In 1768 he did a painting showing an experiment with an air pump that created a vacuum in a sealed bell jar where there was a small bird. This demonstrated that air is necessary to breathe. A group of people surround a table illuminated by an oil lamp to watch the result. When the poor bird collapses suffocated by the absence of air, two young girls, horrified by the scene, cover their eyes as they cry.

 

 

10. Planet Magma 1996

 oil on canvas 50 x 50cm

 

 

 

 

The character of paint may be compared with the formation of a new planet. First in its liquid state and later solidified it imitates the cooling of the magma. Astronomers observing such a wide range of colour wavelengths would be convinced that this planet could support life.

 

 

 

11. Shift 1997

oil and collage on canvas 45 x 50cm

 

 

 

 

The miners of my hometown, Wigan, were very familiar with this phenomenon of geological shifts below the Earth's surface. Unexpectedly a seam of coal changes level creating problems for its extraction.

         As a boy I played in the fields near home and I would watch the mining surveyors working with a large drill. They pulled out the core sample of clay, shale, rock and coal placing it in a box in rows marked with depth measurements. The colours of this sample were very varied.

 

 

 

 

12. Village Planet 1996

oil on canvas 40 x 40cm

 

 

 

There is a lot of talk about globalization which seems to have some advantages in the world of communication but many disadvantages for the European economy. And if the global village was very small?

 

13. Polarized Layers 1998

oil and collage on canvas 60 x 50cm

 

 

 

Besides looking at minerals under the microscope with a polarizer I created slides with strips of overlapping transparent selotape. These were projected using polarizing filters and I demonstrated to my students how by rotating these filters there was an unforgettable sequence of changing colours.

 

 

14. Cellular Levels 1996

oil on canvas 50 x 50cm

 

 

 

Science fiction writers have often considered the possibility that we are part of a series of worlds where our planet Earth could be a single molecule in another giant universe, or that inside the cells that make up our biological life there could be another much smaller one.

      I have been inspired by this idea since the 1960's. Large canvases, seen from a distance show one kind of image but on moving closer, one sees other much smaller images, like the painting Macro and Micro which I have completed this year (2013).

 

 

15. Beach Genesis III 1997

oil and collage on canvas 40 x 40cm

 

 

 

In the Autumn of 1963, with a scholarship to paint for a year, I chose Spain. I rented a small studio in an attic above an isolated villa on a beach in Ibiza. Each day I walked along the long beach collecting small objects thrown onto the sand by the waves. I also gathered shells and I started a series of canvases I thought of as my first paintings; my personal genesis as an independent painter freed from the academic rigidity of the College of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

16. Fossil Beach 1998

oil and collage on canvas 60 x 60cm

 

 

 

 

In 1997 I visited the Natural History Museum in London where I studied the fossils. Many recent works have strata with the lower ones from prehistory layered with ammonites. In this canvas I glued spirals of string, progressively smaller towards the top to create a space similar to a beach.

 

 

 

17. Pyramid in Time 2008

polychrome relief 100 x 100cm

 

 

 

For more than four thousand years the Egyptian pyramids have to a certain extent resisted erosion. Archaeologists together with historians have attempted to go back in time to reconstruct their original appearance. In this relief I have chosen four phases divided between past and future.

 

18. Fibonacci Window 2010

 oil on canvas 40 x 60cm

 

 

 

 

Leonardo Fibonacci (1170 - c1240) was an Italian mathematician from Pisa who was famous for his discovery of a series of numbers which, after the first two, formed the sum of the two previous ones. This sequence can also be transformed into squares forming rectangles ever increasing in size.

 

 

        19. Table of the Elements 1995

      oil on canvas 80 x 50cm

 

 

I inherited my interest in Chemistry from Dad. Besides the chemicals he used to make up his photographic solutions in the darkroom, he had test tubes, flasks, gas jars, etc. on his shelves and I remember I was very small when he showed me how to produce oxygen, grow crystals from supersaturated solutions, and so on. In those days many chemist shops also kept everything necessary for chemical experiments.

At school we had a well-equipped  laboratory with individual benches for the pupils. We had a lecture theatre with demonstration bench where we watched our teacher Mr. Pilkington perform his conjuring tricks and unroll a large poster of the Table of the Elements. The more I understood the reason for the positions of the various elements, the easier and more logical became molecular structures and valences. Having such a fascinating image, the table has remained with me ever since.

 

 

20. Satellite 2006

oil on canvas 70 x 100cm

 

 

 

 

This satellite is probably a moon orbiting around a pastel-coloured planet. The eclipse creates an intensification of the colours.