The Streams of Life Project


By Cherrill Everley




Through this project I intend to achieve the following aims:


To record my observations, experiences and ideas.

To analyse and critically evaluate the sources drawn upon.

To illustrate how my ideas developed through investigation and exploration of a range of materials and resources.

To demonstrate how a personal response to the work of others was achieved.


In order to satisfy the above aims, the following methodology will be adopted:


An accurate record of the development of the project will be kept. This will outline the materials and techniques utilised, the ideas being tested, rejected, modified and refined.

At each stage of the project my work will be analysed in relation to the work of others which will be researched and critically evaluated.

A final outcome will be achieved through the process outlined above and will then be subjected to further critical evaluation.


This approach will not only lead to developments in my own work, but will also help me gain critical insights into the work of others.


Main Discussion


The project will draw upon the work completed as preparation for and during the practical examination. The intention being to complete a series of paintings, in various media, linked by the common usage of the DNA motif. In this way various similarities and differences can be explored while maintaining a common theme.


The project will also allow a comparison to be made with the work of Bryan Wynter who, in his later work, utilised the common motif of a meandering river or stream to link a series of works which explored similarities and differences in the natural world. Just as Wynter explores the tension between the permanent and the transient, as with water eroding granite, so my project will explore the diversity of life based upon the DNA structure and the transience of life compared to the eternal nature of the DNA itself.


For Wynter, water has an archetypal significance and man needs to re-establish the correct relationship with this element in order to achieve spiritual renewal. A motif from the natural world being utilised by the artist to embody a spiritual significance.


In the project an attempt will be made to achieve a similar linkage between the scientific notion of DNA and the spiritual nature of the various forms of life which it underpins. As well as making a comparison with the work of Wynter, the project will also attempt to examine the relationship between the work of other artists and the scientific, and pre-scientific, models of life in existence at their time. For example: the four elements, the animate/inanimate distinction and atomic structures. In this way, some of the fundamental influences upon artists can be critically analysed.






















Artistic Filters and Science


Artistic movements often adopt one of the following methods:


        Paint the world as it appears to the senses. This involves use of perspective which was used in the ancient world and then rediscovered in the renaissance. The rediscovery may have been linked to the increased use of lenses and telescopes, particularly by sailors. This placed emphasis upon what you see rather than what is.


        Paint the world as it is. One of the reasons that perspective may have been lost in the dark ages was because of religious emphasis on the essential nature of things and not upon the way they appear to us. A similar notion may lie behind Alfred Wallis and primitive art.


        Paint the world as it appears in dreams. Association of ideas not found in the real world. The paintings also tell us something about the inner world of the dreamer. Dali and surrealism etc. Explores the logical connections of ideas in the dream world.


        Paint the world as seen by children. Pre-scientific reasoning. Science held to be responsible for the First World War, therefore need to recapture the age of innocence of childhood. The novel Lord of the Flies attacks this notion. The idea behind the Dada school.


        Paint the world in an exaggerated way. Distortion of perspective and of line drawing. Use of pure colour in order to gain freedom of expression. Mattise and the wild beasts. Apollinaire saw it as "a kind of introduction to cubism".


        Paint the world as an expression of human action. The world as formed by people rather than a neutral world they inhabit. The paintings affect our emotions and carry an emotional message. El Greco and Rembrant are early examples. Modern artists look at the expressive, emotional power of brush strokes, textures, colours etc. Also links to emotional music. The Romantic School. Klee, Kandinsky and Sutherland are examples.


        Painting the world as seen through the eyes on animals. Franz Marc attempted this in order to regain an innocence lost to man. Oneness with the rhythms of nature. A form of expressionism above, but the emotions of animals and nature rather than man. Here a linkage could be made between Bryan Wynter's harmony with nature through use of the DNA motif in place of his river motif, but adopting Marc's colour scheme.


The following are some examples of relevant artistic movements and styles:


        Cubism was formalistic art concerned with re-appraising and reinventing pictorial procedures and values. It had strong links with literature. Picasso drew upon the work of Gauguin, El Greco and Cezanne. African art was also utilised as a means of escape from visual appearances. Painting ideas about the subject became abstract, stylised and symbolic. Cubism aimed to be both abstract and realistic. Cezanne also abstracted form, so his painted jugs appeared to be both real and painted. The jugs look real, but on close examination they are found to be abstract and distorted. Whereas Van Gogh and Gauguin had abstracted colour and space. A series of paintings could be attempted, using the DNA motif, in which firstly form is abstracted, in Cezanne style, and then colour, in Van Gogh style, and finally space, in Gauguin style. Braque, influenced by Cezanne, was obsessed by painting space. "There is in nature a tactile space". Cubism, for Braque, was the materialism of this new space. The areas of empty space were as important as the subject. Hence his colours were toned down. He aimed at a balance between the abstract and the representational.


        Orphism moves towards abstract "pure" painting, although it began as a tendency in cubism. Orphism relies upon the use of colour and form to convey meaning and emotion rather than a recognisable subject. Just as Orpheus used a pure form of music. Art becomes free of having to depict the world as seen or perceived. Yet, the painting requires its own internal structure in place of a reliance upon the natural world's structure. Leger, Picabia and Delawnay are examples. Often the paintings structure grants insights into the consciousness of the artist. Orphists conceive the world as having dynamic forces in a state of change, rather than being stable objects in a static space. Therefore they attempt to paint the world in a constant flux. Movement therefore becomes important. These changes are held to be due to new scientific ideas about atomic theory and time, space and energy. The individual becomes part of the speed of modern life. Swallowed up in it. The old scientific idea of a stable world which can be painted is lost. Movement and change become the key factors. Movement and change has been introduced into the DNA motif in my paintings through the use of kinetic art models which can be turned and restructured. These models represent the way in which the four basic building blocks of DNA control the development and change that occurs in life. From the egg to the baby etc.


        Futurism attempted to paint the non-visual as well as the visual aspects of the world. Also concerned with movement. Changes in science and society were seen as requiring expression in a new, bold art form. Op Art is one example and involved an acceleration of successive images across a shallow plane, e.g. Bridget Riley.


        Vorticism was inspired by, the then, new invention of aerial photography, e.g. Wyndam Lewis. Its abstract style was also influenced by cubism and futurism. Photography was also an important element as were developments in engineering technology and architecture. Ezra Pound saw futurism as surface art and vorticism as intensive art. Vorticism extends the acceleration of successive images into depth, creating an intense, in-rushing perspective - a vortex. The image becomes not a single idea but a clutter. In many ways one of the larger final pieces that I produced was influenced by vorticism, it aims to capture movement and change under the influence of DNA, but has as a backdrop the symbol of stability and hope in the form of a cross. In this way the contradictions of movement and stability and change and hope are transfixed.


        Suprematism involves an attitude of mind. Malevich aimed to capture elemental forms designed to break conditional responses to the environment and to create new realities which are no less significant than the realities of nature. The idea being to paint a new world. This involved the use of perceptual shock. The geometry employed is based upon the straight line, which symbolises man's ascendancy over the chaos of nature. The square, which is never found in nature, becomes the basic element. It imposes order on the world. This could be represented through the use of the square wooden tools, which I developed for the life study project, to create the DNA motif which, after all, imposes order on all living things by determining how they will grow and develop.


        Constructivism gave an expression to Marxism. Painting the world as seen through ideology. The artists could contribute to the physical and intellectual needs of the whole of society. Links here with machine production and architectural engineering. Also, links with graphic and photographic means of communication. The artist takes his/her place alongside the engineer and designer in the new world order. Although, in the case of DNA, the artists takes his/her place alongside the scientist and the genetic engineer.


        Abstract Expressionism considers that the realities of the everyday world and the realities of painting are not the same realities. Artists involved in the movement included Jackson Pollock and Kline. In many ways this was the leading American art movement of the 1940's. A synthesis of the conscious mind, in the form of straight lines, designed shapes and weighted colours, and the unconscious mind, in the form of soft lines, obscure shapes and automatism, took place within the artist. A blending of formal and spontaneous painting procedures.


        Kinetic Art attempts to involve movement. The dynamic displays of Bryan Wynter being a classic example. Two prototype models which aim at producing movement of the DNA motif have been included in my project.


        Pop Art such as the popular art of David Hockney.


        Minimalism developed from Malevich's square. Tatlin was concerned with "real space and real materials". Works of art need to be completely conceived by the mind before being executed. Art was seen as being able to impose order on things, but art was not merely the self-expression of the artist. Clarity, conceptual rigour, literalness and simplicity were praised in place of the subjectivity and emotions of the abstract expressionists. Frank Stella was a notable minimalist.


        Conceptual Art placed emphasis on ideas. Duchamp. Performance art etc.


        Postmodernism moves away from minimalism and involves a reversal of modernism's evolution towards increasingly pure abstraction. Although, there was always a sub-current of this tendency running parallel to mainstream modernism. Postmodernism sees representation and reality as overlapping. A painting becomes part of the world and can then be involved in a further painting of the world etc. By painting the world both the act of painting and the painting itself become part of that world. What we perceive to be real is always present in, and filtered through, representation. Nothing we can say or do is truly original. Our thoughts are constructed from a lifetime of representations to which we have been exposed in books, films, paintings, music and the real world. Therefore, we need to concentrate on how symbols and images shift or lose their meaning when taken out of their usual context and are placed in different contexts. This deconstructs the way in which meaning is constructed. Schnabel and Salle are examples of artists working in this movement. In many ways my project can be seen to be post-modern in outlook as it draws from the work of past artists and from science, each new piece of work also contains echoes of previous pieces of work and the kinetic models utilise the structure of earlier paintings but add movement and change to them.


        Neo Expressionism is mainly a German and American movement. Lucian Freud being an example of a leading artist in the movement.




Science, Society and Artistic Filters


Science has changed the way in which we perceive the world. We now think in terms of causal relationships rather than random events, for example. However, this also introduces the notions of determinism and fatalism. We lack choice and the ability to change things if everything is already programmed in our genetic code. Art often operates best in the space created between hope and dismay. It is from the tension between these two extremes that creative energy is derived.


Science has also introduced previously unknown, or hidden, worlds for the artist to explore. These microscopic realms are often extremely diverse and beautiful. Additionally, mathematics has allowed the artist the opportunity to explore the worlds of fractals and chaos theory, often with very beautiful and powerful results. In many ways abstract art can now become a representation of microscopic reality and gain an objectivity it previously lacked.


DNA, as a subject, offers an opportunity to combine both of the above points. Firstly, although it is based upon causal relationships stretching from the dawn of time through to its close, it allows for change through chance mutations of the cellular structure etc. Hope for a better tomorrow is, therefore, always present. Secondly, the cellular structure has its own microscopic beauty which is only now becoming available to artistic scrutiny and interpretation.


Society is both affected by changes in scientific reasoning and also influences that reasoning. The artist therefore operates within this charged atmosphere of social and scientific interaction. DNA, for example, was originally perceived of as a chemical code controlling the evolution of cells etc. However, it is now often perceived from within the frame of reference of the information society and is seen as a computer programme or "code of life" which provides the information for cell evolution to take place. These subtle changes also affect the way in which the artist approaches the subject.


Preparation Work


Early experiments involved attempting to depict unison and harmony between various living organisms due to the common DNA motif in each of them. For example between a child and a tree. The "threads of life" are depicted as the fine veins found in leaves and the DNA has become footprints leading from, or to, the branches.


The artist Bryan Wynter was a keen photographer and, I believe, he used his considerable photographic skill and knowledge of cameras, lens etc. to distort images in the same way that we are now able to distort them using computers. Also, he had a glass-bottomed boat that he went sailing in and was able to study the movement beneath the surface of the water. He often used pentel on paper while trying to decide on his initial shape, changing and redefining until he had decided on the layout of his final piece.




















Initial work showing stages from child and tree outline, through depiction of child and DNA "footprint" to final version incorporating the "treads of life".


Lino cutting was then experimented with in an attempt to produce a simplified version of the DNA painting depicted above. The idea being this could be a way of developing the DNA motif for later use. However, I was not impressed with the results as the print looked more like tadpoles! Even a second attempt, using less ink, was unsuccessful. A further version, using crimson acrylic paint, failed to impress me. However, it is through such a process of trial and error that development is made. Much in the way that evolution develops various forms of life.


My final version, in which the crimson paint was spread more evenly, turned out to be the most interesting of the four, even though not as originally planned, as the thread-like veins began to appear.

































My next series of experiments involved computer distortion of the basic DNA pattern in an attempt to identify a suitable motif. This proved to be more difficult than originally imagined. Often the results lacked vibrancy or the colours were unsuited to the subject. Some examples appeared "washed out", while others lacked real interest. Probably the best example was the following:















A further experiment utilising the "lens" effects of the computer resulted in the following:





















It is this relationship of the spiritual and the physical that I also intend to explore in my study of the archetypal forms of DNA.


However, I prefer the computer version to the painted version in both the example above and the example that follows.











The next experiment emphasised the importance of trial and error in the search for the right outcome. This was a great idea in theory identifying bold looking DNA and the threads of life etc. But, when I actually painted it, I didn't like it at all. It is a little boring and far too lifeless looking to depict DNA. Experimentation is the only way to get there.



With this piece of work I tried another approach - once again using my home-made "tools". In this case a piece of wooden dowel with square ends, roughly cut. I began with a bright background of crimson then roughly formed the basic DNA shape with payne's grey. I completed the whole by making thick and thin square shapes in cadmium orange, buff and yellow ochre. The payne's grey worked as I hoped in thrusting the brightly coloured squares forward, while emphasising the crimson background.






































































Piet Mondrian was an art theoretician who wanted to find universal harmony through the horizontals and verticals he utilised as his main pictorial elements and the red, blue and yellow colours he applied. Hundertwasser's work, on the other hand, is multicoloured, organic and portrays a sense of the magical or fantastic. Additionally, he has always tried to promote ecological awareness.


In order to develop the scientific ideas in my depiction of DNA, I looked closely at gel images, bar codes and chemical notations. The chemical notation for DNA, in which the four elements BSOP are combined to produce chemical codes, has similarities to a bar code, in which the varying thickness of lines are used to produce a specific computer code. However, bar code notation is strictly more applicable to quantum physics in order to depict energy gain or loss when electrons change shell positions.


This approach led me to the notion of painting DNA as threads attached to a chain indicating the start of life, its pattern and changes. This idea being based upon the rotation of the DNA spiral.




















This approach led to the following depiction of one of the stages of the rotation of the DNA spiral:

















Developing the theme of the rotation of the DNA spiral, I was able to draw more shapes to imply movement and form in the same way that Bryan Wynter depicted it in "Red and Black Streams" 1973 (page 16 of the sketch pad). My attempts at colour testing of this idea (page 19 of the sketch pad) also began to look like gel cells.


The more the colour testing for DNA took place, the more I realised that a background of one colour, even with varied tones, was not what I wanted. DNA is, after all, present in all living things and forms life patterns which are infinitely varied. As DNA is multi-faceted, my background also needed to be multicoloured and kaleidoscopic in effect - dark and intense, bright and cheerful, strong and definite. The bright colours representing all the things we have learned about DNA and the dark areas representing the unknown aspects we have yet to discover.



























Kinetic Models


The kaleidoscope concept in the painting mentioned above, led to my first kinetic model in which the central circle of the painting can be spun at speed in order for the various colour to blend into white - I would later develop this concept in my x-ray painting. The spinning and stopping of the "wheel" represents:


        The movement of DNA.

        The randomness involved in the way in which the four bases combine to form different types of life.


For my second kinetic model I copied the central section of colour onto four overhead transparency sheets, which overlap each other, and marked each sheet with one of the DNA elements - BSOP. By moving the sheets, different patterns emerge representing the way in which DNA combines in different ways in different forms of life. In some ways this is similar to the work of Victor Vasarely who worked out his problems of movement by means of transparent partitions whose panels are arranged so as to constantly modify the appearance of the background.


The outcome of this was a determination to paint my final outcome on a large canvas and to utilise only four colours in order to represent the four DNA elements. Similarly, the final outcome has to capture movement and be swift, rapid and full of light. In some ways the use of a limited number of colours is similar to the work of Bridget Riley who, in her better work, achieved movement through the way in which her lines appeared to undulate and, after looking at them for a little while, streak colours across the canvas. Her abstracts are composed out of patterns and orders of design that sway, weave and swell.


The DNA X-Ray Painting


A promising avenue to explore was provided by x-ray photographs of DNA which provided an interesting pattern of dots and dashes. These provided an impression of a face or form within the shape. The x-ray also captured movement in the form of a swirling, spinning effect, as in the first kinetic model. I therefore decided to attempt to paint this on a blue canvas. The idea being to work from dark to light and to utilise various shades of phthalo blue to pure titanium white in the centre, then swirling payne's grey or black to show the darker areas.



Once painted, the impression of a face appeared at the core looking ponderously out. In a way the whole reminded me of an old-fashioned driver's helmet. A small version was produced before the larger canvas, with its religious symbolism in the form of a background cross, was completed.









In the painting on the larger canvas I wanted to relay the idea of several colours, but without actually using them. I used titanium white, phthalo blue, ultramarine and phthalo green as the four colours to represent the BSOP bases of DNA. I pressed the wet canvas against the wooden supports of the canvas to form the cross by pulling the paint towards the outer edges. Using a cheap 2" household paintbrush and a piece of sponge I covered the canvas with a deliberately uneven coat of phthalo blue. Using the same brush, I swirled on some titanium white, trying to achieve a thick-thin effect. A size 12 acrylic brush was used to add streaks of phthalo green and ultramarine. Finally phthalo green mixed with ultramarine provided the right tones for the darker areas and for the dots and dashes of the original x-ray. I did not want the movement to start at the exact centre, as I felt it would then be restricted. The overall effect is that the movement has already moved, in tornado fashion, from the position at the heart of the cross. Therefore the movement is sweeping across the canvas as well as spinning. The cross occupies a position central to the vortex.


Influence of Bryan Wynter


Bryan Wynter, like many other artists of his time, had his career greatly delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War. His post war re-definition of his art, from a previous modernist style, was founded upon lighter and darker aspects of nature. The horrors of war shook the optimism contained in modernism to its core and a new individualism started to develop.


It was the moors, cliffs and rocks of Cornwall that were to serve as the inspiration for Wynter's work. Another influence was the growing community of artists and writers at St Ives. These included: Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, John Wells and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.


After the war there was a lot of interest in the work of Chaim Soutine, who utilised dead animals as a recurring motif. Originally Wynter introduced a dead gull motif into his paintings to depict Jungian symbolism, in which birds are identified as representatives of the spirit. He saw its recurrence as an unconscious symbol of his spiritual death, or, may be, his mundane state. Wynter may have perceived of a painting such as "Birds Disturbing the sleep of the Town" as a celebration of vitality. Sven Berlin recalls: "When I asked about it, he told me that he had been looking down on Zennor one night feeling suicidal. Suddenly the curlews flew over in the moonlight giving their fluting calls. `After that`, he said, `everything seemed worthwhile again and I painted this`".


This contrast of the themes of degradation or decay and of transcendence through nature appears in much of Wynter's work. Although his style appears to have changed radically in the decade before his death in 1975. The size of his works, the form they took and the selection of colours altered dramatically.


These later abstract works are vibrant in colour and composition, showing how carefully he had studied nature. For instance, the titles of his paintings, such as "Confluence" and "Meander", "Riverbed" and "Red and Black Streams" are indicative of his interests in all aspects of water and its archetypal forms.


Wynter studied nature carefully, particularly the movement of water. His choice of colour was excellent, particularly in "Riverbed" and "Red and Black Streams". The latter having strong colours flowing together in unmistakable movement. Solid forms and shapes seem to be emitting smaller ripple-like lines. He depicted nature in his abstract paintings through a sense of harmony and balance.


I first discovered his work while visiting the Tate Gallery in St Ives during October 2001. His recurring water motif was an inspiration for the development of the DNA motif in my work. I only discovered quite late in the project that he had himself been influenced by Chaim Soutine's dead animals motif. It is interesting that my motif is to do with life, whereas Soutine's motif is to do with death. Wynter's motif, on the other hand, is to do with degradation, decay and transcendence which spans both life and death and involves a higher understanding.


The Final Outcome


For my final work I decided to combine Wynter's interest in water and movement with my own interest in DNA and movement. Firstly I completed a small acrylic painting to test my idea and then I developed this into a much larger piece of work.


Being very impressed with Wynter's "Red and Black Streams" I noted that he didn't use more than four colours in its completion. The shapes and forms being very definite, with plenty of movement. The ripples in his work could easily represent the "threads of life". Therefore, I decided to embark upon something similar.

Using the four colours, phthalo blue, titanium white, ultramarine and naples yellow, to represent the four bases of DNA, I began. The linkage is fairly obvious. Water has movement and flows over riverbeds, rocks etc. While DNA flows through all living things. Additionally, all living things began in water.


The completed larger painting contains hidden shapes, i.e. frogs, fish, deer, faces and even an elephant. I hope that I have created the impression of movement - flowing, lively, liquid - with the suggestion of a metallic element moving towards the picture plane.


Using a 2" household paint brush I covered the canvas evenly with phthalo blue. Adding white to the blue, with a 14 cryla brush, I swirled the paint to form random shapes on the canvas. Next I painted titanium white in the middle of the canvas, thinning it from just below the centre into thin streams and rivulets towards the picture plane. I then emphasised and darkened certain areas with an uneven coat of ultramarine. I changed to a size 10 brush and added touches of phthalo blue to the block of white in an attempt at emphasising the water's movement. Still with the size 10 brush, I used a watery mixture of naples yellow and titanium white to add the suggestion of sunlight to certain areas. Phthalo blue and titanium white formed lighter shapes which were then outlined with a mixture of phthalo blue, ultramarine and naples yellow. Finally, titanium white highlights were added before varnishing.


Movement is therefore the best way of depicting life. Water moves constantly, changing shape and position. Wynter's paintings demonstrate his interest in nature and mine, hopefully, demonstrate my interest in DNA the building block of nature and of life.
















Through this project I have attempted to:


Record my observations, experiences and ideas.

Analyse and critically evaluate the sources drawn upon.

Illustrate how my ideas developed through investigation and exploration of a range of materials and resources.

Demonstrate a personal response to the work of others.


In order to achieve the above I attempted to:


Keep an accurate record of the development of the project. In order to outline the materials and techniques utilised, the ideas being tested, rejected, modified and refined.

Analyse my work in relation to the work of others which has been researched and critically evaluated.

Achieve a final outcome through the process outlined above and to subject that outcome to critical evaluation.


This approach has not only led to developments in my own work, but has also helped me gain critical insights into the work of others.


The logical steps of my method being to:


        Examine the possibilities of the main artistic movements in relation to the depiction of DNA.

        Utilise computer technology to help arrive at a workable motif for DNA through use of "lens" effects etc.

        Explore the work of others which may contain echoes and resonances that could be developed in my own work.

        Link my own exploration of the archetypal forms of DNA with the exploration of the archetypal forms of water in the work of Bryan Wynter and to adopt his notion of a recurrent motif in my own work.

        Explore how movement and change, central to DNA and life, can be captured in paintings and kinetic models.

        Explore and utilise scientific concepts relating to DNA in my paintings and to attempt to ground abstract work in the objective world of micro organisms etc.

        Achieve a final outcome which integrates my thoughts on DNA with the work of Bryan Wynter in relation to water movement etc.




Bryan Wynter. St Ives Artists Series. Chris Stephens. Tate Gallery Publishing.

        Sensitive Chaos. Theodor Schwenk. Rudolf Steiner Press.

        Hundertwasser: The Painter-King with the Five Skins. Pierre Resteny. The Power of Art.

        A History of British Art. Andrew Graham Dixon.

        Larousse Encyclopaedia of Modern Art. Rene Huyghe General Editor.