Can we talk about your childhood? How does it relate to your paintings now? Can you make connections?
Autobiographically, some of the big paintings in that show reference my parents. Father’s Space is very much about my dad. He studied physics and ended up being an inventor, and would tell me this story about outer space. He would get really angry about Star Trek, when they would show the stars going by as these trails of light and, to him, that was some bullshit. That was us comforting ourselves. He said that space is so vast and we are so tiny. Our minds need the tether of a relation to even function. If we were actually out in space without the umbilical cord to a ship or next to a planet, if we were out in space by ourselves, we would perceive it as an empty black void with a pattern of space, infinitely and equally far away in every direction. With nothing between us and this pattern of light and space, within that void of no relation at all, we would just lose our minds instantaneously.
It’s funny. He was a very difficult man, and he had a very hard time with relationships. In a way, I came to see that almost as a parable about him, but also, that idea of this dazzling repetition that is a way that you completely lose yourself and your senses was a big part of that painting and a lot of my thinking about repetition. It definitely had to do with him.
I think about the ramifications of repetition a lot. I think lot of the longing for repetition, or the reason why it’s so soothing or seductive, is that it makes us feel like we know what’s going to happen. That longing to know, or that there’s a structure underneath what’s happening. Both sensations are very powerful in me, and I think that definitely came from my childhood too. A desire for stability, structure or safety.
I was just reading the scaffolding of the universe, which I think is built on dark energy, but we can’t really know what it is. But I guess they found a universe which is devoid of this dark matter.
I’d like to read that article. That stuff is so fascinating. Some of these kinds of concepts are definitely influential, too. I’ve thought a lot about phase space, which is part of chaos theory.
It was so immensely and structurally patterned, but it was a kind of pattern that you could not see or perceive in any way, experientially, because it was so bird’s-eye.
It seems to do with an idea of fate. The description of it is: say you have a way of measuring things. You feel like this dynamic or ecosystem that you’re looking at is an infinite thing, but it’s actually not infinite. It has limitations, and any limitation creates a shape. But it feels infinite because it’s just so large, you know? So, the way that they’re measuring this thing that feels too large to measure is that they break it up into each variable. My memory of it is that they take a pond, for example, and they measure each of the flies. What is the population of each of these flies? And then they do that for each of the grasses, and then they do that for the fish, and then they say, what about water? And what about rainfall? And what about moisture? And what about algae?
They think of all the things that they can think of that are happening in this population or change or weather happening in this little system, and they give each one its own plane in space. And they measure, they map all of the variabilities of this thing in the cycle. Which they say is a year, or whatever, but you can name the cycles anything. And each one has this kind of shape, which is the variabilities it goes through. And then when they layered it all out, they said it was like paisley, basically. It was so immensely and structurally patterned, but it was a kind of pattern that you could not see or perceive in any way, experientially. Because it was so bird’s-eye.
The idea that all of these things are forming this immensely elaborate visual pattern; there’s almost like an oil slick of possibilities. Any particular individual in that system would just be winding some path through that.
That’s a nice image. Well, sort of. As long as you’re not too stuck in the slick.
That’s the thing, right? It contains all of that possibility, from terrible fortune to amazing fortune.
It seems like there’s an infinite amount of things you could do or be. There’s also an infinite amount of things you can’t do or be. I’m never going to be a politician. I’m never going to be an astronaut. I’m never going to be a runner. I’m never going to be a skier. I could go down the list and probably talk for the rest of my life about the things I’ll never be.
Let’s say your foot gets run over by a car. And it’s like, okay, I’ve got to go on with this imitation or a change in the set of rules. I’ve got to live my life with a hurt foot now.
It changes the shape of the whole caboodle. It’s another mathematic idea that has sort of an ecstatic side to it.
I remember reading that if you just had a room, like a square of air, the air would usually follow these normal patterns. But if you leave it for millions and millions of years, they’re saying that all these weird variables would come in with air patterns. Every possibility could potentially happen if it had enough time.
Ideas of infinity are so strange. The whole thing about these monkeys being part of the imagery in the paintings reminds me of a story that my mom was telling, which is kind of the reason I included the monkeys in the “crowd” paintings.
I was complaining about some kind of worry in my life, and she’s like, “Oh, you know, it’s like the hundredth monkey.” I’d never heard this phrase; I asked what it was. She’s like, “The first monkey can’t do it, and the second monkey can’t do it, and the third monkey can’t do it. But the hundredth monkey will do it.” There was something about that idea. On the one hand, it’s this cheery idea of progression, but then there’s that Darwinian kind of ruthlessness, which is like, 99 of the 100 are going down. I thought that dual idea about a crowd like that was super fascinating.