Many artists want to express their individuality through their work. I can understand the appeal but for me art is almost like an umbilical chord to the world around me. Consequently, wherever I have lived, my art has allowed me to tap into something in my surroundings and in turn be nourished by it.
While I could give me examples of my art style changing in response of my environment, the evolving motif of the DNA serpent perhaps best indicates my approach. It commenced when I was thinking of the Australian expression, “as mad as a cut snake”, which means crazy. As I played with oil paints, an image of a threaded snake unravelling around a tornado appeal on the board before me.
As Mad as a Cut Snake (1999)
About 6 years later, I returned for a holiday in Australia after living in Asia for a number of years. With my eyes changed from foreign experience, I looked at my homeland with an awakened spirit of curiosity. In particular, I felt an especially close attraction to the environment and I spent some time walking along river banks and sitting under tress. Additionally, I read through a book on Australian art and came across the quote from a 19th century bushman:
“A queer country, so old that as you walk on and on, there’s a feeling comes over you that you are gone back to Genesis.”
It was a quote that resonated with me, but I was not sure why. As I thought about it, I painted a picture of my split snake with threads around an apple. In my mind, it was partly a metaphor of the kind of sentiments expressed in the William Blake quote:
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
My thoughts of genesis didn’t just access the story of genesis within the bible or the ideas of William Blake, it also accessed the story of genesis as told in many Aboriginal religions. These stories propose that a great rainbow serpent emerged from the earth and as it writhed from side to side, all the animals and plants of the world emerged from its body. In a way, the story of the rainbow serpent reminded with of my scientific knowledge of DNA in that it speaks of a common origin between all plants and animals, which is told in our DNA. Specifically, we share over 98% of our genes with some chimps and 80 % with cows and 60% with bananas. I like to think of those origins as it encourages me to see all the flora and fauna of the world as kind of family.
Conception of Genesis
After finishing the painting, I returned to Asia where I started experimenting with Chinese ink, then experimenting with Chinese aesthetic approaches to art. When I returned to Australia again, the land once more pulled me. I started splitting sedimentary rocks and in the process, marvelled at the story told with the flow of colours. In a way, I felt like I was holding a sunset in my sunset in my hands and I could understand how thousands of generations of humans before me had looked at such land and thought of a rainbow serpent. Responding to my feelings of flow, I applied my DNA serpent upon the rock, which in turn took my art in a whole new direction.
With rock as my first choice medium, I became interested in the human story and the story of our relationship to the land and ecosystems around us. From those thoughts, my mind produced Ants Attack their Genes in the Rainbow Serpents DNA.
Ants Attack Their Genes in the Rainbow Serpent’s DNA
Over the following years, I continued to shape and evolve versions of the snake motif in response to many different issues. I feel like it is a symbol of connectivity and how the lines are drawn and the nature of its integrity speak to me about how I feel about the connectivity.
It was out of that appreciation for connectivity that I developed a philosophy that art is a culture and culture is shared. When it becomes isolated, colours lose their vibrancy and art has no life.
Genesis of i (2010)