Dirty Clouds

Dirty Clouds
Oil and latex paint, bitu­men, red-iron oxide, and shel­lac, on wood pan­els

A series of 84 paint­ings in response to a SSHRC project Lean­ing Out of Win­dows,” orga­nized by Randy Lee Cut­ler and Ingrid Koenig. The project involved con­ver­sa­tions between artist and physi­cists about anti-mat­ter and artists respond­ing to these con­ver­sa­tions through mak­ing an art­work.

My response, Dirty Clouds, brings togeth­er image and tex­tu­al research. I grav­i­tat­ed toward images of alche­my and emblems from the 17thcen­tu­ry to give an alle­gor­i­cal char­ac­ter to the project.



The light we see from the sun is from 8 min­utes ago. Light is the result of anti­mat­ter pro­duced in the heart of the sun, and its anni­hi­la­tion. We will nev­er be able to see the edges of the uni­verse, as they are four­teen bil­lion years away. All of these cos­mic mus­ings are medi­at­ed knowl­edge, not gleaned from direct human expe­ri­ence.

How to make some­thing approach­ing sacred paint­ings today, and why would some­one want to both­er? Intu­ition point­ed to ancient emblems and alchem­i­cal illus­tra­tions. The hand-of-God motif is a stand-in for the human hand, play­ing God. Build­ing appa­ra­tus­es devised to extract the hid­den poten­tial­i­ties at the seat of mat­ter. Under the sign of stock­pil­ing cap­i­tal, devour­ing humans drove the sacred away. What direc­tion might we want to go in light of loom­ing extinc­tion?

The mat­ter we see around us is what is le over from bil­lions of years of cre­ation-anni­hi­la­tion, ener­gy passed between fermi­on and boson, and oth­er ele­men­tal and ener­gy states known and unknown. Mat­ter is con­gealed ener­gy. When mat­ter first formed, it left a neg­a­tive imprint – anti­mat­ter. When mat­ter and anti­mat­ter col­lide, they release exor­bi­tant ener­gy. There is very lit­tle anti­mat­ter acces­si­ble to humans as things stand, most of it hav­ing been used up, leav­ing behind stray mat­ter. How to wrap one’s head around such phys­i­cal con­cepts? Begin with a void, pro­ceed blind­ly, with lit­tle under­stand­ing of where things will go, fig­ure out a trans­for­ma­tive process in reac­tion to mate­ri­als, let things accrete slow­ly, wit­ness mate­ri­als assem­bling, inter­pen­e­trat­ing and con­geal­ing, such as bitu­men and red iron oxide into plas­tic.

Review in Canadian Art,
Antimatter, Earthworms, Stardust—and Painting” →