Chiaroscuro “is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures.” – Wikipedia
I thought I’d begin this post with a quote from Wikipedia. My recent Tweedle paintings have taken a darker turn, and I thought I might elaborate on them today. A few years ago I came up with the Tweedles without really knowing what to do with them. They were a creation without a purpose. I have given them rules, emotions, a mind, a soul… each of them even has its own backstory, and the story of Tweedles as a species (which I am still writing. Maybe I should try making a graphic novel rather than writing a book…) exists entirely in my head at the moment, awaiting it’s manifestation onto canvas, text, video and music. But even so, I still had no idea where I was going with my Tweedles… They were my creations, but they had no purpose. No reason to exist in my artwork. And then I realised that they were my creations. They were what humans are to a god. They were artificial life of a sort, and I began to explore that.
In my fictional world, Tweedles are created with artifical brains, mixing organic matter with analog and digital technology in nano scale. Because of the way they are made, they think, but differently to us. They feel, but do not understand how to express their emotions (especially with a stitched on mouth that holds their head cloth in place). They can sense the world around them, but cannot truly touch it. Tweedles don’t instinctively have free-will, and need to learn how to be free. Their existence is a confusing one once they can actually develop enough to stop and think about it. Their creators are not omnipresent. They are not omnibenevolent. They create Tweedles for reasons more linked to power and greed, and they create the Tweedles for reasons that are not entirely good but in fact selfish in some ways. Tweedles are made to be servants and slaves. The eventual development of true emotion and free will is just a side-effect of their construction.
I thought about how that would relate to what it’s like to be human. To live and die without knowing why. What your purpose is, if you have one. A lot of people live lives dedicated to a god or supreme being, but without ever questioning whether their creator is really omnibenevolent at all. The amount of suffering in this world seems unjust. Perhaps there is an evil, possibly sadistic being that enjoys messing around with humanity for entertainment? I was thinking about these deep philosophical and theological concepts and questions, and then suddenly the Tweedles had purpose after all. They were a vehicle for this philosophical exploration into life, death, morality, the creators and the created… through painting my recent Tweedle pictures, I am confronting some of my strongest fears in regards my spirituality, humanity and existence. I wouldn’t really call myself a spiritual person, but if there is a god, how do I know they are good? If he told me that he was, could I really trust them? And in regards free will, I assume that it exists because I think I can make decisions. But do I really have free will? When we look closely, living cells are made up of lots of dead matter and elements that are having a chemical reaction with each other to make the next part have a reaction and so on. Theoretically our entire bodies are a prolonged chemical reaction, so does that mean that we are even alive, or is humanity (and by extension all life) a strange and complicated quirk of chemistry that never was ‘alive’ in the way we believe we are?
Tweedles are made up of a few bio-engineered and grown brain cells linked into mechanisms and machines which allow them to move their bodies, repair it, respond to stimuli and even potentially build more Tweedles… but by our current definitions of life they are not alive because they are not composed entirely of cells. Are they alive or not?
Is this Tweedle really dead or can it be repaired and brought back? Was it ever actually alive, and were we as humans ever truly alive?
By using heavy, dark backgrounds in the paintings (a greenish-black colour) I could help express the gravity of these questions and the weight the answers would have on us if we ever knew them. I wanted to highlight the Tweedles in bright colour to emphasize that they are surrounded by darkness. The specific Tweedle that is the subject through my recent series of paintings walks its entire life treading through the unknown. And then, without realizing how or why, it dies.
No-one will ever truly know exactly what when on in our mind; we can only guess. Sometimes you may meet someone so like minded that you think you know what they’re thinking, and they can seem to read your mind, but in the end we can only hazard estimates and guesses as to the thoughts of other human beings. Eventually all our thoughts, our personalities, our very selves will disappear, as they are only made up of memories, and will eventually fade into darkness…
…and whether there is a light after that darkness will forever be completely unknown to us until we actually experience it.
“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.” – Orson Welles
This was a painting inspired by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam‘. In this painting, a Tweedle looks up at its human creator’s hand, gently reaching towards it.
Tweedles are humanoid in shape. They were invented in man’s image. As Tweedles learn more about the world around them, they attempt to mimic human behaviour but can never truly understand why we do the things we do.
For example, the Tweedle in this painting has adopted a red robe, similar in colour to its face cloth, because it has seen humans wearing clothes. It doesn’t fully comprehend the concept of clothing. It tries to understand by copying us, but ultimately the clothes serve it no purpose.
No matter how much a Tweedle tries to understand its creators, it never will be able to. It can never connect with what it is to be human, and so it is depicted reaching out but not touching the human.
We are reminded of the relationship Tweedles have with their masters. The hand is above the Tweedle. The hand may appear to be reaching out, but it could actually be a commanding hand. The sheer size of the hand compared to the Tweedle shows the power the human has over the Tweedle. While Tweedles are almost completely obedient, the Tweedle is unable to rebel against the human even if it wanted to.
The very hands that made the Tweedle stitched a smile onto its face. Tweedle don’t have real mouths, so the smile is fake. By the way its master has created it, the Tweedle is forced to smile every second of every day. Whether or not it actually would smile if it did have a mouth is another question entirely.
So, in this painting the Tweedle is seeking understanding, hoping that the human wants the same. The human in the painting wants control, obedience and power. The Tweedle’s desires for knowledge and understanding are benign, while the human’s command of the Tweedle could potentially be for their own personal gain.
The Tweedle will never truly know if their creator’s grand scheme is for the greater good… or for entirely selfish reasons.
What happens when a Tweedle dies?
It can think and feel. Due to variations in grown brain cells, Tweedles even appear to have their own personalities, so does it have a soul?
What Tweedles do have is a partially organic brain. Their ‘brains’ consist of artificially grown living brain cells. These brain cells are shut inside a protective casing that keeps them in a sterile, stasis-like environment so they don’t decay naturally. These cells are linked up to a microscale CPU, both of which are kept functional by a battery that utilizes nuclear fusion on a very small scale. All of these combine to form the mind of a Tweedle.
Surely everything that makes up a Tweedle’s sense of self is part of its mind. So if it had a soul, maybe such a thing would exist in its mind?
Do we even have souls, or are we just a product of our own minds?
Assuming only living creatures have souls, could a Tweedle ever be alive in the first place?
In the fictional world they inhabit, Tweedles are considered as an artificial life form. They can move, respond to stimuli and repair parts of themselves. Although Tweedles don’t have the knowledge, they theoretically could build new Tweedles. They have quite a few of the scientific characteristics of being alive, but do they count as living things?
And are we ourselves actually alive, or just biological machines like the Tweedles?
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of pictures of Tweedles interacting with chains. Chains in my artwork are symbolic of the master/servant relationship Tweedles have with their creators.
Because Tweedles can act fairly autonomously, they are often seen hanging from the chain or holding onto it, but never actually bound to it. They could easily let go of the chains, but are afraid to do so because they are built with an emotional attachment to their master; an unintentional but useful glitch in their creation.
When a Tweedle fails as a servant and is unable to return to them, it loses this emotional attachment and essentially becomes free. Without a true sense of what it means to be free, most Tweedles that have reached this freedom don’t know how to cope. Some wander aimlessly, some try to find a new master, and some simply stop working.
In this painting it is not entirely clear whether or not the Tweedle is hanging from the chain or standing on the ground holding onto it. For me this represents the lack of control the creators actually have on their creations. This could be further interpreted as the lack of control a higher being or God might actually have on humanity.
As I have quite a few canvas boards at the moment, I’ll be making a series of these paintings, using the Tweedles to explore themes such as free will, servitude, identity, and the problems of mind, body, soul and death.
I’ve often wondered about my future as an artist, enjoying the thought that my name would be famous… The problem is that it’s already famous. There is an amazing artist named Daniel Smith who specializes in wildlife photo-realism and also an art supply company by the same name as me. It seems that my given name is already taken. When I’m a bit older and I’ve set myself up professionally, I will have to market my name as a brand, but I could end up causing a whole series of problems from copyright infringement to being plain confusing by utilizing ‘Daniel Smith’ as my professional name.
There are quite a few artists who have pseudonyms, most of which are street artists like Banksy, Invader or King Robbo, who use their names to protect their real identities. Anonymity is essential for such artists as their means of creating their works are in the grey areas of the law and are quite often illegal.
I’m not afraid for people to know my name nor do I have any reason to hide my true name, but I will need a different name to work by if I am to make it in the art world without confusing fans of my work.
I know that actors and musicians have stage names, and they are definitely artists, but when it comes to the visual arts there aren’t that many artists with stage names. Maybe there is a reason why visual artists seldom adopt alter egos; maybe taking on a new name would be the best decision I ever made; who knows?
If I do take up a stage name, I would have to choose something cool, catchy, short and easy to remember. If people don’t like saying the name or can’t pronounce or spell it, how can I expect them to want to tell other people about the artist?
I wonder how much of an impact a name can have on someone…
Lets say that I did take up another name, how would that affect my life? Would I still be the same person or would my personality subtly differ when I’m being my professional self and when I’m being me… the real me?
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ― Oscar Wilde
At the moment I have no idea what I would call myself. It would have to be a name that isn’t already owned by another person or company. I like the thought of having a mononym – a single word name, but as I’ve just said, I’m currently undecided.
I wonder what your opinions are on this matter? Should I adopt a new name? What sort of name would even suit a visual artist? Is it too much of a risk to go out into the art world with a completely crazy name, or is it worth the risk?
I’ve enjoyed working with spray paints recently, enjoying the interesting effects they can create, and the speed which paintings can be created using them. I have used them in my previous works to create fog and smoke effects. For my most current paintings, however, I have revisited one of my earliest ideas and expanded on it:
(Click to enlarge the above images)
I found the old skull stencil I made almost a year ago. I created a scaled-down version of it for my mini canvases so that I could experiment with my the image, along with the black and white spray paints I have at the moment. I used my new stencil on various different forms of paper as well as canvas, and above are what I feel to be my best of the experimental paintings.
By flipping the stencil over and using different spray paints, some interesting images could be formed; my favourite example of this technique would be the skull on the very left, due to it’s 3D effect which makes it stand out, almost to the point that you could reach out and grab it. With the same technique, a fairly Terminator-esque skull was formed (which can be seen on the right).
Although I had forgotten about my original skull design, upon rediscovering it I was immediately drawn to it. I think that it’s a very powerful image because of the contrast between the white and black, and because of the association we have with skulls and our mortality.
The eerie stare of the skull seems to follow you around the room. Although this wasn’t intentional, I liked how it reminded me that death feels inescapable, yet as humans we try to prolong our existences with medicine and diet, with some of us even seeking the seemingly impossible – immortality.
As an artist, I may be able to achieve immortality through my works and be remembered long after I’m deceased (or at least I hope so!) but realistically prefer the idea of biological immortality, where I can physically live on. At the moment this is impossible, but in the future it may slowly change into the improbable, then the probable, and finally the possible.
Thinking more about it, I wonder if immortality would be as good as it seems. At first it would be fairly amazing. As I’ve gotten older it seems that time has sped up, and as I continue to get older, the years will continue to fly past at an exponential rate. Perhaps centuries will eventually feel like seconds as I progress through an evolving world in a slow, dream-like state. Also, old age is often accompanied with arthritis and memory loss, so spending eternity with increasing joint pains with no memory of who I am or was or where I came from certainly doesn’t sound good at all.
I didn’t know that I would end up writing more of a philosophical post about life and death, but then again, that’s what art is supposed to do – to allow you to admire, experience or think about things in our world. Curious to know what you readers think, I guess I’ll leave you with this question:
Would you want to be immortal?