James: The artist's view

'Complexity' from an artistic perspective

I see complexity in nature as an artist, as a ubiquitous range of forms. They manifest themselves to me the way scientists talk about complexity. When I draw what I see, the things that I draw can be found within very different scales both macro and microscopic, but the form that they take can be very similar, and this kind of similarity is part of the concept of complexity used by mathematicians and physicists.

They are forms that emerge over time and certain patterns and forms are converged on. If two drawn subjects are actually similar, then this is often revealed only through the act of drawing, as a dynamic process taking place in the present. For instance, you might draw a map of postal delivery networks and road maps emanating from cities to the countryside, or you might see the structure of the World Wide Web traffic. In nature, you might be drawing the leaves on trees or the circulation of blood vessels. They also emerge over different time scales; think of your family tree or how a transport network emerges.

My practice and the 'New Wild'

One ambiguity about complexity that relates to the New Wild project is that some simple tasks can be performed by computers very efficiently but other tasks are not so simple for machines, yet both kinds can be viewed as complex. The dichotomy is something that I can also relate to as an artist. When I create these landscapes,(and I do think of my craft as landscape painting, although the art is a little more involved), the process of creating them is very dynamic, and is definitely a finely honed craft. It is done through seeing in both the eye, and the mind’s eye. That in itself is knowledge, experience and intuition working together to create a state of ‘being’ whilst I work. This is where the art lies, in the unspoken, received and intuitive, states of mind. So, in many ways this kind of human complexity is very old. The paintings therefore involve this old notion of complexity as a difficult task which can then be seen as a piece of artwork which is very satisfying. However, my work also embraces one of the most modern definitions of complexity, in terms of discovering and capturing these pervasive algorithmic structures which emerge in nature. This complexity is expressed through finely honed, yet simple and often microscopic, repetitive processes, analogous to the working of computers.

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