Relevant and resonant extracts from art, science and life and the place where patterns begin to emerge. 


Santiago Ramón y Cajal drawings.

This February, the New York Times featured Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Spanish neuroscientist and his remarkable drawings.

From left: A diagram suggesting how the eyes might transmit a unified picture of the world to the brain; a purkinje neuron from the human cerebellum; and a diagram showing the flow of information through the hippocampus in the brain.


Tyler Nordgren

Tyler Nordgren is an astronomer and artist who makes lovely posters.  This one I discovered in Physics World, December 2016.


Alexander Humboldt on describing nature.

An extract from Volume II, Cosmos.
"Descriptions of nature, I would again observe, may be defined with sufficient sharpened scientific accuracy, without on that account being deprived of the vivyfying breath of imagination.  The poetic element must emanate from the intuitive perception of the connection between the sensuous and the intellectual, and of the universality and reciprocal limitation and unity of all the vital forms of nature. The more elevated the subject, the more carefully should all external adornments of diction be avoided. The true effect of a picture of nature depends on its composition; every attempt at an artificial appeal from the author must therefore necessarily exert a disturbing influence. He who familiar with the great works of antiquity, and secure in the posession of the riches of his native language, knows how to represent with simplicity of individualising truth that which he has received from his own contemplation, will not fail in producing the impression he seeks to convey; for in describing the boundlessness of nature, and not the limited circuit of his own mind, he is enabled to leave to others unfettered freedom of feeling."


Francois Morellet

To celebrate his 90th birthday, The Mayor Gallery is showing "Les Regles du Jeu" by Francois Morellet.  The work pictured was made by marking out four sets of lines each rotated 22.5 degrees from the next.  The result is a dynamical feeling of rain falling on water.  These highly constrained images are playful and touching and each encourages the viewer to discover the simple relations giving rise to the complexity, asking them maybe, to think like a scientist.



Pilar Ordovas curates another thoughtful and excellent exhibit at Ordvas Gallery.  Three sculptures by Chillida made in the later years of his life.


One unlooked-for favour 

Two wonderful poems by Robert Frost about our relation with a generous Nature, illustrated with Alexander Calder's 'Constellation', in which two figures seem to climb a montain to the stars.


Two Look at One

Love and forgetting might have carried them 
A little further up the mountain side 
With night so near, but not much further up. 
They must have halted soon in any case 
With thoughts of a path back, how rough it was 
With rock and washout, and unsafe in darkness; 
When they were halted by a tumbled wall 
With barbed-wire binding. They stood facing this, 
Spending what onward impulse they still had 
In One last look the way they must not go, 
On up the failing path, where, if a stone 
Or earthslide moved at night, it moved itself; 
No footstep moved it. 'This is all,' they sighed, 
Good-night to woods.' But not so; there was more. 
A doe from round a spruce stood looking at them 
Across the wall, as near the wall as they. 
She saw them in their field, they her in hers. 
The difficulty of seeing what stood still, 
Like some up-ended boulder split in two, 
Was in her clouded eyes; they saw no fear there. 
She seemed to think that two thus they were safe. 
Then, as if they were something that, though strange, 
She could not trouble her mind with too long, 
She sighed and passed unscared along the wall. 
'This, then, is all. What more is there to ask?' 
But no, not yet. A snort to bid them wait. 
A buck from round the spruce stood looking at them 
Across the wall as near the wall as they. 
This was an antlered buck of lusty nostril, 
Not the same doe come back into her place. 
He viewed them quizzically with jerks of head, 
As if to ask, 'Why don't you make some motion? 
Or give some sign of life? Because you can't. 
I doubt if you're as living as you look." 
Thus till he had them almost feeling dared 
To stretch a proffering hand -- and a spell-breaking. 
Then he too passed unscared along the wall. 
Two had seen two, whichever side you spoke from. 
'This must be all.' It was all. Still they stood, 
A great wave from it going over them, 
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favour 
Had made them certain earth returned their love. 


Iris By Night
One misty evening, one another's guide, 
We two were groping down a Malvern side 
The last wet fields and dripping hedges home. 
There came a moment of confusing lights, 
Such as according to belief in Rome 
Were seen of old at Memphis on the heights 
Before the fragments of a former sun 
Could concentrate anew and rise as one. 
Light was a paste of pigment in our eyes. 
And then there was a moon and then a scene 
So watery as to seem submarine; 
In which we two stood saturated, drowned. 
The clover-mingled rowan on the ground 
Had taken all the water it could as dew, 
And still the air was saturated too, 
Its airy pressure turned to water weight. 
Then a small rainbow like a trellis gate, 
A very small moon-made prismatic bow, 
Stood closely over us through which to go. 
And then we were vouchsafed a miracle 
That never yet to other two befell 
And I alone of us have lived to tell. 
A wonder! Bow and rainbow as it bent, 
Instead of moving with us as we went 
(To keep the pots of gold from being found), 
It lifted from its dewy pediment 
Its two mote-swimming many-colored ends 
And gathered them together in a ring. 
And we stood in it softly circled round 
From all division time or foe can bring 
In a relation of elected friends. 


Julio Le Parc at the Serpentine

Julio Le Parc's 'Sea Shapes'.

Working with simple means, Le Parc creates mesmerising and complex works, reminiscent of the relation between Nature and the underlying laws.


Joyas Volardores

WordTheatre introduced me to this beautiful essay.

By Brian Doyle

Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas volardores, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmet-crests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day, and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest animal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.


Other worlds

Two researchers from Cambridge: Roxanne Middleton and Jamie Dolan introduce worlds at the scale of the wavelength of light, around 1/10,000th of a millimetre.

Royal College of Art 2015

This year 3 designers caught my eye.  I've scanned their cards and attached website links to the images.

Chao Chen

Chao Chen makes work with poetic sensibility and harmony that draws on close observation of nature.  It is a skillful mix of ingenuity and humility. Inspired by pine cones he creates structures that react to humidity.

CanopyStairThor ter Kulve and Rob McIntyre have made the CanopyStair.  Like all good ideas, once seen, you imagine it must always have been with us.

And Sven Ladiges:

Sven LadigesHe has created this long bench inspired by bridges to support the sitter using a suspension wire.


Agnes Martin

'Our lives are broader than we think'.

The best works in this show at Tate Modern posess a luminous beauty to be carried away and returned to whenever there is a need for space to think.

Untitled 1998.



Sonia Delaunay

The Russian born artist showing at Tate Modern made paintings, fashion and textiles.  



Diatoms are algae, tiny single cell creatures found in pools and ponds and oceans. They are enclosed in a cell wall of silica which are mostly bilaterally symmetric.  Though there is a slight asymmetry, so that one side might fit inside the other.

Remarkably they produce dimethyl sulfide which then forms tiny sulfate aerosols which are among the tiny particles that encourage water vapour to condense in our skies and fall as rain.  It is a beautiful idea that through this process these tiny creatures call the water that has escaped them back to earth.

Since Victorian times, we've been arranging these tiny creatures.  The middle three images are by a person called W M Grant.  I am particularly partial to his or her arrangements.

The Diatomist from Matthew Killip on Vimeo.



Symmetry by Charles and Ray Eames


Alex Katz, Room at Tate

Katz's bold, celebratory use of colour and economic touch stand out in this large canvas at Tate Modern.Katz, 'Late Summer Flowers'.


Looking at Life with the Eyes of a Child

Creation is the artist’s true function; where there is no creation there is no art. But it would be a mistake to ascribe this creative power to an inborn talent. In art, the genuine creator is not just a gifted being, but a man who has succeeded in arranging for their appointed end a complex of activities, of which the work of art is the outcome.

Thus, for the artist creation begins with vision. To see is itself a creative operation, requiring an effort. Everything that we see in our daily life is more or less distorted by acquired habits, and this is perhaps more evident in an age like ours when the cinema posters and magazines present us every day with a flood of ready-made images which are to the eye what the prejudices are to the mind.

The effort needed to see things without distortion takes something very like courage; and this courage is essential to the artist, who has to look at everything as though he saw it for the first time: he has to look at life as he did when he was a child and, if he loses that faculty, he cannot express himself in an original, that is, a personal way.

To take an example: Nothing, I think, is more difficult for a true painter than to paint a rose because, before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted. I have often asked visitors who came to see me at Vence whether they had noticed the thistles by the side of the road. Nobody had seen them; they would all have recognised the leaf of an acanthus on a Corinthian capital, but the memory of the capital prevented them from seeing the thistle in nature. The first step towards creation is to see everything as it really is, and that demands a constant effort. To create is to express what we have within ourselves. Every creative effort comes from within. We have also to nourish our feeling, and we can do so only with materials derived from the world about us. This is the process whereby the artist incorporates and gradually assimilates the external world within himself, until the object of his drawing has become like a part of his being, until he has it within him and can project it on to the canvas as his own creation.

When I paint a portrait, I come back again and again to my sketch, and every time it is a new portrait that I am painting: not one that I am improving, but a quite different one that I am beginning over again; and every time I extract from the same person a different being. In order to make my study more complete I have often had recourse to photographs of the same person at different ages; the final portrait may show that person younger or under a different aspect from that which he or she presents at the time of sitting, and the reason is that that is the aspect which seemed to me the truest, the one which revealed most of the sitter’s real personality.

Thus a work of art is the climax of a long work of preparation. The artist takes from his surroundings everything that can nourish his internal vision, either directly, when the object he is drawing is to appear in his composition, or by analogy. In this way he puts himself into a position where he can create. He enriches himself internally with all the forms he has mastered and which he will one day set to a new rhythm.

It is in the expression of this rhythm that the artist’s work becomes really creative. To achieve it, he will have to sift rather than accumulate details, selecting, for example, from all possible combinations, the line that expresses most and gives life to the drawing; he will have to seek the equivalent terms by which the facts of nature are transposed into art.

In my Still Life with Magnolia, I painted a green marble table red; in another place I had to use black to suggest the reflection of the sun on the sea; all these transpositions were not in the least matters of chance or whim, but were the result of a series of investigations, following which these colours seemed to me to be necessary, because of their relation to the rest of the composition, in order to give the impression I wanted. Colours and lines are forces, and the secret of creation lies in the play and balance of those forces.

In the chapel at Vence, which is the outcome of earlier researches of mine, I have tried to achieve that balance of forces; the blues, greens and yellows of the windows compose a light within the chapel, which is not strictly any of the colours used, but is the living product of their mutual blending; this light made up of colours is intended to play upon the white and black-stencilled surface of the wall facing the windows, on which the lines are purposely set wide apart. The contrast allows me to give the light its maximum vitalising value, to make it the essential element, colouring, warming and animating the whole structure, to which it is desired to give an impression of boundless space despite its small dimensions. Throughout the chapel every line and every detail contributes to that impression.

That is the sense, so it seems to me, in which art may be said to imitate nature, namely, by the life that the creative worker infuses into the work of art. The work will then appear as fertile and as possessed of the same power to thrill, the same resplendent beauty as we find in works of nature.

Great love is needed to achieve this effect, a love capable of inspiring and sustaining that patient striving towards truth, that glowing warmth and that analytic profundity that accompany the birth of any work of art. But is not love the origin of all creation?

Henri Matisse

February 1954 Art News and Review


Henri Matisse making cut-outs


Delight when experiment meets theory after 30 years.

The first experimental evidence arrives that the Universe seems to have undergone massive expansion in the tiniest sub-second in the life of the Universe. Prof Andrei Linde who first shared this inflationary theory reacts with joy to the news.


Simple Harmonic Motion

A short film from the excellent series 'Mechanical Universe' from Caltech.  The simple harmonic oscillator is vitally important in physics and is everywhere in Nature:  a familiar example would be a pendulum.  Each system vibrates always at a particular note, explaining why for example the pendulum is a good time keeper.

Artists' Textiles

Three of the many stunning textiles on display at the Fashion and Textile Museum's brilliant exhibition "Artist Textiles, Picasso to Warhol".