A Mural—Study Painted in Oil on Canvas
by HANDEL EVANS
Some Comments by the artist.
The picture came into being as a result of my search for an image which would express the interdependent nature of the relationship between Man and the growing mass of information with which his mind deals, and on which it depends.
Without information, the mind cannot function, and information, where there is no intelligence to make use of it, cannot in any practical sense be said to exist. The two entities of mind and information continually interact with each other. There exists a constant mutual conditioning process, in which the brain’s powers and the extent of knowledge are perpetually and progressively enhanced.
In "Interpenetrations", the five figures may be viewed as the personification of mind through the senses; and the web of forms in which they are enmeshed may be seen as symbolising the data environment, or information. It would have been possible to have made the figures more "human" and the surrounding shapes more "abstract" (1), but this would have produced a separation of the two, when what I sought was fusion. I wished the human and non-human elements to be inextricably involved with each other, just as mind and information are.
The picture, therefore, is a visual metaphor of the relationship between mind and information. I have painted the image in as clear and strong a light as possible, without cast shadows, as I felt that this would evoke the atmosphere or feeling of scientific and other intellectual enquiry which I desired in the work. However, I tried to introduce a certain ambiguity which I thought relevant to the relationship. This exists in the demarcation between the "human" and "technological" motifs, so that it cannot be always determined precisely where each begins and ends; what represents organic thought and what represents the general paraphernalia, the "hardware and software", of the information industry. The ambiguity is part of the visual metaphor and reflects for me a similar ambivalence in the "real" world of thought and knowledge.
The device used to accomplish the above aims, was the traditional one of the "figure composition", mainly because it is my conviction, certain modern attitudes notwithstanding, that it remains central to the art of painting. I feel that the use of the human form in pictures, whether employed realistically or in a stylized manner, is no less important today than when Michelangelo made the comment that "The greatest subject for art is Man." However, "Interpenetrations" was not intended only as a piece of figure composition or as a group of figures in (but essentially detached from) an enveloping environment, but as an integral structure in which the component elements, human and non-human are inseparable. In other words, the picture is not so much a two—dimesional portrayal of a cast of actors or actresses (3) on a stage, but is rather an evocation in which cast and stage are one, in which the animate is fused with the inanimate, the organic with the inorganic, and in which what is tangible is shrouded with a certain mystery.
A considerable struggle, and many discarded versions were involved in arriving at the basic concept of this work (4). The gigantic scale and scope of the information industry was a source of difficulty by reason of the sheer multiplicity of possible images, references or patterns which might be drawn upon. Such a plethora of possibilities was an obstacle rather than an aid, and only after much deliberation, many false starts, and much laborious evolution upon the canvas did the idea of "interaction" between brain and information become the basic one. And this has found symbolic expression in this image which I have called "Interpenetrations". In the process of trying to convey something of the dynamic nature of the mutual reaction between mind and information, I gradually eliminated most of the vertical and horizontal elements in the design. In view of the continuing, and indeed accelerating effect of the two entities upon each other, I conceived of the relationship as a dynamic, developing one, suggestive of change, movement, continual adjustment and progress, and for me, this could only be expressed dramatically enough by the means of a diagonal orientation in the picture. A work based upon vertical or horizontal axes would have possessed a static, passive or even monumental air, and would have had no power to suggest the existence of busy action, reaction and counter-reaction, which is constant between Man and Data (5).
It may be that "Interpenetrations" will evoke responses in the minds of those who will view it that were not intended by the artist. This is commonplace, almost perhaps usual, in looking at art, and it is hoped that the above brief comments will help to clarify my aims. I would like to repeat that it is not mind alone, nor information alone which has been the instrument of all the spectacular achievements of the past, and no doubt of the future, but the combining of the two in an endless, complex web of action, feedback and further action, ad infinitum. It is this extraordinary phenomenon that I have tried to symbolize in this work.
1. For some artists, there are many possible approaches to work, ranging from that of "total" realism to "total" abstraction. Obviously there are an infinite number of points between, constituting a sort of sliding scale of possibility. When an artist has this versatility, he is able to increase or decrease at will the degree of abstraction, depending on, say, the nature of the theme, his subjective state at the time, or merely his whim or instinct. This is not necessarily an advantageous quality, for such versatility can increase the area of conceptual choice, thereby adding to his burden, and can also be a handicap in achieving recognition for his efforts. The public, even the supposedly art-educated public, prefers an artist’s production to be of a homogeneous nature, in a single instantly recognizable style, whether comprehensible or not, at least for a certain period of time.
2. On the realism-abstraction scale (see note 1), the figures in the picture are probably nearer the abstract than the "human" end. This resulted from the exigencies of the design as a whole, and the degree of reference to the human was limited by the need to create as perfect a harmony between all the components, as possible. It was my intention that the figures and the other shapes counterpoint each other so that there would be no jarring note of disunity anywhere. At several stages in the development of the picture, a closer approximation to nature was attempted in the figures but these were always overpainted or erased in order to avoid their disturbing the general unity. The assemblage of shapes which make up each figure, therefore, do not constitute arbitrary personal symbols. They are the end result of considerable juggling of the relationships between their component parts, between each other, and between the other factors in the picture.
3. The figures are asexual. Although there has been, perhaps, a certain male predominance in affairs of the intellect in general and science in particular, over the past centuries, it is far less likely that this will be so in the future, as more women begin to bring their minds to bear on the challenges facing the human race. I feel, with many others, that a more equal balance of male-female participation in intellectual pursuits is the most feasible prognosis of the coming era of rapid evolution. After all, mind itself is sexless. The asexuality of the figures, then, is meant, to that extent to be emblematic of the probable future.
4. The basic concept is, I suppose surreal. It is also symbolist to a degree. Those qualities of mystery and ambiguity which I hope the work possesses probably place it aesthetically and philosophically in the approximate zone of surrealism. It is symbolist in that it can be read as a metaphor of the interaction between mind and information, and perhaps even by extension, as a symbol of what has been called the World Brain. World Brain, as I conceive it, is in its essence an electronic knitting together of many such local or national interactions on a global scale, and the picture can be seen as a reflection of one such area of interaction (e.g. ISI), or as the merging of the activities of a multitude of such areas.
5. William Blake said that to go beneath the skin is to find machinery. I have long had the sense that although Man is more than just a machine, he is nevertheless a sort of electronically connected, extraordinary adjusted self-directing mechanism, and this feeling finds expression in many of my works. When I depict human beings in relation to machines, I have the sensation of presenting two forms of machinery, the one active, the other passive, and there appears to be, at least for me, a strong relationship between the two forms of "life", one which may well grow in the future as more and more intelligent machines are evolved, or perhaps evolve themselves. For me, there is no greater affinity between Man and Nature than between Man and Machinery, which, after all, is Man’s own offspring, and no more "unnatural" than any other manifestation of life. I see them as mutually dependent, and meeting each other's needs. There is something deeply satisfying to me in this and were it not for the ever-present danger of the misapplication of technology, I would perhaps believe even more firmly than I already do, that in general, the achievements of science outshine much of what passes for creative art in our culture, and are in fact the most accurate expression of our time.