Dear Cleo 17 02 12


Dearest Cleo

Today is Sunday, my traditional catch up day with my coursework, although I haven’t written for several days I have not been idle. I got hold of some tracing paper and traced my motif and firstly I got carried away and did this.


Figure 1 (17 02 12 01) Still life Graphite and Sharpie on A4 tracing paper

It didn’t advance the compositional element much but drawing on tracing paper is such fun and the 4b pencil makes nice marks. I have noticed that the still life has that slightly wobbly feel that you get in a Cezanne still life. Cezanne achieved this, they say, by putting coins under one side of the objects in his still lives, whilst this is a possibility, it does not ring true, as he would have had to put a house brick under one of the feet of the models for his figure paintings. The most probable explanation is that Cezanne tilted the subjects in his drawings for effect, that this same effect can be achieved by placing coins under one side of the object, is probably an urban myth, no coins were harmed or used in the production of the above drawing. This drawing, however, did serve as a vital link in achieving the solution to this project but more about that later.

Using the tracing paper I traced the dominant features of the set up and produced the following two drawings. One of the best attributes about tracing paper is that if you do a drawing on it the flip side is free or DOGOF as it is known in the trade. Degas was a great exponent of this technique, flipping over the tracing paper to achieve a better composition long before the invention of Photoshop.


Figure 2 (17 02 12 02) Conception Graphite and Sharpie on A4 tracing paper


Figure 03 (17 02 12 03) DOGOF Conception Graphite and Sharpie on A4 tracing paper

Whilst both these reductive images still remind me of a bottle and a drinks can, I can see the alternative interpretation, hence the retitle. I can see how this image could be rendered as still life with three apples, probably in acrylics and fulfil the brief, but my reading was telling me that this was not the route to go down.

The book I am reading is called Reductionism in Art and Brain Science by the very learned scientist Eric R Candle. The premise so far, I am only up to page 35, is that nobody sees anything, the brain makes up what you see from signals passed to it by the retinas. These signals pass down two distinct nerve centres, one determines what it is, and the other determines where it is, before joining again in another bit of the brain, to complete the made up virtual picture.

The brain evolved for survival so it is easy to see that the where is is more important, whether it is a sabre toothed tiger or a rabbit, is less important than whether it is close enough to eat you my dear, to kill or be killed by anything that is near to you, is a secondary option.

In order to make up what your retina see the brain uses two processes to make things up, one is called bottom up thinking and the other is called top down thinking. Bottom up thinking is ingrained in us, we all know that light comes from above, that is the sun, so that is what the brain anticipates and why the light bulbs are on the ceiling of your house. Close your eyes and think sabre toothed tiger, you have never seen one, but you will be seriously afraid of the image your brain conjures up because, like elephants, the DNA never forgets. It is also the reason why babies can recognise faces and why ducklings adopt the first thing they see as their mother.

When the brain fails to find a sabre toothed tiger in the mix it uses top down thinking which is based on the experiences of the person in question, I can see a link here with phenomenology but it is early days yet so I will continue reading the book before reaching any valuable conclusions.

Perhaps a good timely example of these two phenomena, it being almost Valentine’s Day, is that love is blind. The bottom up brain thinks she is not as scary as a sabre toothed tiger and the top down brain thinks she is the prettiest girl I ever met so it could be the start of a beautiful friendship (Bogart; Casablanca)

Abstract art exists somewhere along the neurological pathways before your brain can make its virtual world up, most abstract art is dismissed by the brain as “a wall splashed with a number of stains” (Leonardo da Vinci) because the brain is unable to make up a plausible explanation for the signals the retina is sending to it.


Figure 04 (17 02 12 04) Sketch and thumbnails Graphite and Sharpie on A4 cartridge

With this in mind, I consider myself to be an experienced viewer of abstract art, so much so that it doesn’t blow my mind, I looked again at the image in figure 1 to see if I could find a solution to this problem. A sketch and two thumbnails later and I had it.

By ignoring the objects in figure 1 above I got a sense of the edge shapes and the central vortex, to prevent the eye diving down the vortex I have used two devices. Firstly the increasing width between the perimeter lines of the vortex that reverses the normal perspective effect and of course reversing the tonal shading of atmospheric perspective on the sides of the vortex. My Brain sees it as a flat two dimensional image, It doesn’t feel happy that it is unable to make up a virtual reality for itself but it has solved one of it’s problems, I can neither eat nor be eaten by a flat sheet of A4 cartridge paper.


Figure 05 (17 02 12 05) Strange star Graphite and Sharpie on A4 graph paper

The star shape was a dream from earlier in the sequence of this problem and whilst I am aware that stars are not flat, I got that I think from a brilliant bit of top down thinking by Galileo, drawings and pictures of stars are flat 2 dimensional images.

The tones brought something else back, Rothko’s floating colour fields, I almost dusted down the watercolours but no, that is for another day, I have 200 pages of a science book to read and need to progress to project 2 of this course but one day….

There are a number of people who deserve thanks for the inspiration provided to complete this problem and I would like to thank in no particular order Leonardo, Cezanne, Degas, Escher, Rothko, Photoshop, Google, Amazon Eric R Candle Drawing Now and Galileo. Not forgetting Mum, Dad and my teachers for the grounding in top down thinking I received and of course my ancient ancestor, the one who didn’t get eaten by the sabre toothed tiger for the bottom up thinking.

Goodnight Cleo