My name is Keith Tyson. We are at my Shoreham studio, and we’re looking at the work that is going to be in the Parasol unit show this autumn in London.
Well, I kind of needed big space, because I work on things simultaneously, and I also have a very gestational practice. Often I don’t really know the precise direction something is going. I just have to wait until something becomes clear. So I like to have things up, I like to have them around in the periphery, and then eventually something will occur in the world that makes me think, ‘Ah, that’s what that was about!’ So it’s a process for me of having great faith in how these things will evolve, and after a bit of experience, a few years of doing it, you come to learn that instead of trying to control the work, you just try and find the correct circumstances for the work to come into being.
For all the large studio and everything, it really all happens in this, so I keep a kind of meticulous diary of ideas and things that I’m thinking about, and this gets translated into studio wall drawings, which are pieces of paper where I plot out an idea or an equation or a concept that I’m thinking about, and then that eventually would be transformed into an actual artwork or a painting. A lot of my work happens in my bedroom or on the bus, or just sat down on the beach, or something. It might be when I’m reading a book, because for me it’s about a sense of being open.
The title of the show is ‘Cloud choreography and other emergent systems’. I’m very interested, and always have been, in systems and how they operate. There are systems going on all the time – evolutions of technical design, evolutions of biology, hydrodynamic cycles such as clouds in this work – so each one of these clouds that you see on this painting appears to be just a nice, whimsical cloud, but in fact when you look more closely, they are all historically significant clouds. They are clouds from the background of a Dürer print, or maybe they are the clouds here from 9/11 that were above the Twin Towers, the title sequence from Gone with the Wind. The clouds are constantly going above, neutrally, not really thinking about the affairs of mankind that are going on below. And so these clouds become imbued with the kind of significance that we apply to them, even though they are just water molecules. You know, clouds don’t just have to happen in the sky, they can happen in your coffee when you are contemplating a divorce, or going through some other turmoil. Or when you are having a neutral day, and there are clouds occur – they are a dynamic cycle which is the same kind of forces at play in these paintings, are in another body of my work, which are the nature paintings.
So if we look at those, which are also in the Parasol unit show – the nature paintings are made by taking a sheet of aluminium and mixing certain chemicals together which have hydrophobic effects – they don’t mix, like oil and water. But there is a catalyst in there that sets them, and the different pigments, temperatures, gravity, all the things that are at play, all the physical forces that are at play creating nature around us, are at play in making these paintings.
Nature Painting 2008
I have very little control over what happens. I know that if I put certain chemicals together, certain effects might occur. But often the results are very reminiscent of things in nature like cells, nebulae, planetary surfaces, clouds – and I’d say that these are not paintings of nature, but paintings by nature.
Once upon a time, Da Vinci would not see the difference between being a scientist or an artist. They were the same thing, it was just about an experience of the world and an expression and innate curiosity about things, and I think that that is something missing from today’s compartmentalised society. So I wanted to do a show which was kind of like that, that showed the breadth of what I am interested in, really.
Just because my work has equations in it sometimes doesn’t mean to say I’m trying to prove anything, or have a hypothesis, and I’m definitely not a didactic artist. I’m not trying to teach anybody anything. I’m just trying to actually share a kind of sensitivity and wonder I have about what we are and who we are, and it may be, I suspect, that we’ve forgotten that a little. And maybe it’s good to be reminded that things are a little more complex and that we are a little more involved in things than it might at first appear.
I was born on a farm in the Lake District, so for me, I got a sense of peace from being in nature, and also I felt that there was a wisdom there that was a lot greater than the wisdom of my parents at the time, which were telling me all sorts of nonsense. So I feel that that is the first real education I got, just looking at the world. And actually, the heart of my work happens out here. This is more of my studio than the factory that produces the actual items. My big challenge is always to try and bring this into those.