Perception and Its Visual Trickery

Burnt Out 1 - Limited Edition 1/5 Sailors Bay Middle Harbour, Sydney. 19th Jan 2018. 6.44am

Burnt Out 1 - Limited Edition 1/5 Sailors Bay Middle Harbour, Sydney. 19th Jan 2018. 6.44am

The genesis for my work grew out of my observations of nature and the discovery nature has a unique ability to create perfectly constructed abstract artworks.

I make this assumption about nature and art because - as behaviourial psychologist Nick Chuter observes in his new book, the Mind is Flat - the brain essentially just makes everything up as it goes along – including what we fondly think of as our real perceptions of the world, which are nothing more than a patchwork of reconstructions and guesses. As an artist, this theory explains how I see the work I am creating – guesswork abstracts!!

This idea of the brain playing games of neural guesswork regularly surfaces during conversations about my work. At first glance, the work seems to spark the imagination or touch an emotion in the viewer that asks the brain for a meaningful response.  Whilst the response provides momentary meaning, in reality, often there is no connection between the meaning and the reality of the content of the image.

Two stories from viewers whose perception of Burnt Out 1 were completely different demonstrate this idea

Recently former US President Barack Obama was staying at the Sydney Intercontinental Hotel, the venue for my current pop up gallery. A young Pakistani security agent was placed outside my gallery overnight. When I arrived to open the Gallery in the morning, he walked over, introduced himself and asked if he could share something with me. Burnt Out 1 had occupied him during his 12-hour shift and he wanted to explain to me what he had discovered about the work.

“It was” he said excitedly “beautiful and engaging. I have focused on it all night. I finally have discovered what it is. It is a painting from inside a cave and the light in the centre is the sun streaming in beckoning the person inside the cave into the light.” He wanted me to know this piece of art had affected him profoundly in such a positive way and asked whether I would pose for a photo standing in front of the artwork for him to send to his family in Lahore.

Even though I knew what the image was in reality, whilst having my own view on what it might or could represent to a viewer, at no time had I even sensed in the image a cave. My new Pakistani friend had offered an entirely new perception of what the image represented. That I might have created a visual image that evoked Plato’s “the Cave” - my favourite Ancient Greek allegory - was powerful. Why hadn't my brain revealed that possibility?

Two weeks later, an energetic loquacious gentleman, 70 years young and a World War 2 displaced person of Latvian descent, rushed into the Gallery insisting he had to buy Burnt Out 1 - now. He had walked past the Gallery several times over the last two days and Burnt Out 1 had made a very important connection for him.  He and his family had been in the heart of the path of the Ash Wednesday bushfire in South Australia in 1983, still one of Australia’s most devastating bushfires with the loss of 75 lives and over 3000 buildings destroyed. Burnt Out 1 offered his neural pathway a sense of recall and yet peaceful meditation on a most horrific moment in his life.

So what is the photo of in reality that has provoked these wonderful stories?

I am conflicted about answering that question. Should I describe in detail how the imagine was constructed and take away its inherent abstraction, its mysticism. Or should I describe it in detail and let viewers examine their own reactions to the description.

For the moment, I am holding back. Let your brain do the guesswork. Whatever it comes up with will be correct!!