Artists today are very lucky. We truly benefit from the multitude of documentary images made possible by technology. Technology assists scientists to make the invisible visible in a myriad of ways and scales. We can gaze upon pictures of enormous ancient galaxies or explore the minute organelles of living cells. Once completely unknown, these objects, imperceptible to the naked eye for most of human history, are influencing our worldview, art, and culture.
Some high-resolution photographs taken by astronauts on the ISS are so exquisitely cropped and composed that they can be appreciated just as much for their abstract beauty as for being documentary studies of the Earth from orbit.
Microscopic photographers like Igor Siwanowicz and Rogelio Moreno achieve some stunning false color images of plant and animals at the smallest scales. These images fluoresce with instructive structural detail and dazzling beauty that many artists are keen to try to express in their own work.
In addition to extraordinary imagery, artists have also benefited from advances in chemistry. Featured artists, Aaron Coleman and Bruce Riley both take advantage of layered compositions made with the new crystal clear resins that are available today. They also dabble with and eventually master innovative pigments suspended in mediums with an array of viscosities and interactive properties.
Although the artists are using similar mediums, techniques, and influences the resulting bodies of work are distinct. Aaron Coleman is celebrating the fractal qualities of natural forms while Bruce Riley is painting psychedelic biomorphic designs. Neither artist is trying to document a real-world landscape or species. They are both expressing an abstract vision of their own while riffing on our newly available technological images of nature at large and small scales.
When showing Aaron Coleman’s paintings,* many people remark upon how they look like landscape as seen from a high altitude. His landscapes can hold some unearthly surprises, though. One of his oceans may gleam with an otherworldly rose gold. Another piece may shimmer with silver cloudlike forms that cast real tiny shadows on the lowest painted layer.
Coleman uses a wide array of techniques that he is reluctant to discuss because he’s constantly mixing up his modes and media. However, he often builds up his paintings in layers of clear resin like a composite animation cell. I suspect he uses a lot of flow acrylics and inks to get the natural flowing and mixing characteristic of some of the layers on panel. Then many layers show liberal use of craquelure and other techniques. A lot of this painting technique may appear random and haphazard but you can’t dismiss the virtuosic skill necessary to direct and finesse so many chaotic elements. The level of variation, detail, and beautiful natural textures makes his work visually complex and stimulating.
Bruce Riley is less shy about demonstrating how he’s mastered the art of going with the flow to spectacular effect. Here we have a helpful video where he makes it look easy. **
Exploded View looks like a festive piñata bursting with simple sea life. Take a moment to check out Riley’s Flickr page with excellent detail photos of his works. The artist uses a brush only for the underpainting or large blocks of color and then builds up resin layers with translucent puddles of inks where the pigment concentrates in the edges like the film of a bubble or a cell membrane. His photos of his work are superb at showing the layering and depth of these pieces but you should still try to see them in person if you have the chance.
Artists and researchers are always on the lookout for new and unique ways of appreciating and exploring our world and beyond. One can only speculate what marvelous technological innovations will further expand and augment the biological sense of sight we were born with.
*Disclosure: My art consulting company represents Aaron Coleman’s art work.
**But it’s not.