Art Articles


Unconscious Inference 2 - 1500 x 1000mm

Unconscious Inference 2 - 1500 x 1000mm

Often when I see an image for the first time I think is worthy of being a potential new piece, I attempt to title it. Sometimes the title comes immediately. The abstraction in the work is apparent at first glance and will name itself. At other times, titling the work is a real challenge. Sometimes an artwork will simply not give up a title that seems a suitable descriptor for the content in the work.

In my favourite current read “the Age of Insight” , written by Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize Winner and Founder, the Center of Neurobiology and Behaviour, Columbia University, offers an interesting explanation as to why this might be the case.

Kandel suggests our brains have an upward and downwards sensemaking operating mechanism. In the front of our forehead lies the thalamus. This part of the brain operates as a major learning mechanism through its interactions with the external world. It is here where the brain first encounters the experience of seeing, hearing, smelling before it enters the cerebral cortex. At the back of our skull lies the hindbrain made up of the cerebellum, pons and medulla, the repository of our genetically pre-disposed sense of being. It is the part of the brain that deals with our innate sense of survival.

A connection along the brain’s synapses must occur between these two elements for us to make sense of our world. These connections occur rapidly, continually in the moment, as we sense and filter the stimuli in the world in which we live.

Therefore it is not uncommon, indeed some would argue it is common, for external stimuli the brain doesn’t immediately recognize, results in an illusion. The brain needs to have an immediate answer for what we are experiencing in the moment so it can ready itself for its next moment of perception.

This phenomenon is called paradoelia, a mental state that can be described as the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music.

Kandel calls this phenomenon the state of unconscious inference. This is what I am experiencing when my brain is seeking to title a work.

I tried and tried to name this new piece. The two elements of my brain failed to make a meaningful connection so I have titled it “Unconscious Inference 2” the artwork to hold this nomenclature.

Perhaps your brain might perceive this differently, make a quick connection and come up with a better title. How did your brain experience this artwork?

A Good Eye

Desert Water Groove 1650 x 1275 Dubai Marina, Dubai UAE Nov 12 5.24pm

Desert Water Groove 1650 x 1275 Dubai Marina, Dubai UAE Nov 12 5.24pm

A Good Eye

Regularly viewers of my work tell me I have a “good” eye. The reality is I have very very bad eyesight. I have a serious eye condition known as keratoconus. Keratoconus is the slow deterioration and ultimate death of the muscles in the cornea, the surface of the eye. In the mid-1980s I had a corneal transplant that reclaimed sight in my right eye and I am legally blind in my left eye without a hard contact lens that holds my deteriorating cornea in place for the moment.

A recent trip to my eye surgeon provided totally unexpected insight – the pun is intended – as to how this condition plays into my artistic practice and why I see the world the way I do.

The surgeon had sitting in on the consultation a trainee ophthalmologist and in a brief exchange between the two as the surgeon was looking into my eyes through his phoropter, the surgeon explained keratoconus sufferers see the world in a unique way.

A normal cornea has the firmness and shape of a camera lens allowing the brain immediate focus in any given moment. On the other hand, keratoconus sufferers are always seeing shapes with slightly blurred or haloed edges. Their brains have learnt to accept this abnormality in focus searching for movement and stillness to enable perception as distinct from those with normal eyesight whose brains register immediate sharpness on focus. The images I create come as a result of my brain harnessing the uniqueness of the way my eyes see the world. I am often asked by viewers “what am I looking at ?”and on reflection the viewer is observing my subconscious at work, actively interacting with my impaired body - specifically my deeply damaged eyesight..

At last, an explanation perhaps for the “good” eye.