Chaos Theory

sea shell in setup

A complex still life is like Nature.  When you go out into the world, into the fields, the forest, the meadow, you find a gazillion things scattered willy-nilly according to a prodigal and crazy logic devised by Nature our Mother.  She’s a harried housewife, Nature, and drops one thing here while on her way to get that, and can’t remember where she left that tree or raccoon, that froggie on the lily pad … those birds sitting in the oak … where’d they get to?  Never can find her keys, Mother Nature.  But what difference does it make when luxury and profusion are the trades you ply?

A lot of artists arrange a well-organized still life for contemplation, one that’s sure to have a center of interest. Others of us, affected by a visual ADHD, crave clutter.  For me I find rationality inside the clutter.  Gravity still rules.  Things aren’t flying off the table, exiting the solar system.  Physics still has it all under control.  But patterns and colors abound and edges bump into other edges.

To have a fine mess to get into, an artist can approach still life as though it were en plein air.  Notice the abundance of shapes, colors, the confusion of proportion as you try to get your “ducks in a row.”  That’s how I roll.  I pick something and draw and the devil take the edges. My pencil as my machete, I hack my way through the jungle of lines, shapes, colors, forms and plant my flag at the end of my travails.

I rule!

And Nature indulgent Mother glances wryly at me, her hyper-active child. Minute in the cosmos.

Enduring passions


A sea shell is the kind of subject that an artist can find perpetually intriguing. Its structure is complex.  The shadings of color are wonderfully subtle.  Its surfaces are textured — smooth pearl,  ridged appendages,  barnacled patches, sea battered edges. If you go for form you sacrifice texture, if texture then form is less prominent.  If you explore the color, other features must give way. But it matters not since there are many sheets of paper, many occasions to pry out other secrets from the shell.  You can turn it this way and that.  Turn it around and it’s entirely changed.

Place it upon surfaces of different colors. View it in different kinds of light. Every artist ought, I think, to have at least one thing that he sets himself the task to learn.  What that thing is — well, that impulse right there teaches something. You learn about yourself just by the choice.  You learn the thing, you learn about yourself. An artist and her objects become companions through life. I have a kindred spirit who was similarly entranced.

I’ve never met the animals that make the conch shells, oceanic sculptors, but I study their artefacts.