Parting Wave: Your Vision, Your Brain, My Mind’s Eye

Parting Wave by Alison Shull

Parting Wave: Awash with both kinetic and surreal attributes, this two part painted abstraction appears to many as a cresting wave.  Is it?

A Vision Exercise

We all instinctively search for meaning in what we see. Our brains are masters of construction. And deconstruction. Try this vision exercise to see just what your own vision system does without you realizing:

  1. Look in a mirror.
  2. Move your eyes (only your eyes) back and forth, so that you are looking at your left eye only and then looking at your right eye only.
  3. Ask someone to watch and tell you if they can see your eyes moving while you do this.
  4. Can you see your eyes moving from side to side while you do this?

If you’re like the rest of us humans, you don’t see your eyes move (but the person watching you does). You don’t even perceive gaps in what you’re viewing, or any sense that your brain has “edited” this so that all you do see is yourself staring straight ahead at your still eyes.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman calls this a demonstration of how “brain time” is instinctively subjective. He asks “Where did the missing moments go?” and suggests that question raises a fundamental issue of consciousness: How much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds? (More about this in the New Yorker article “Possibilian” by Burkhard Bilger,  Eagleman’s book “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brian” and NPR Fresh Air Interview podcast).

Back to my “Parting Wave”

Parting Wave by Alison Shull

Parting Wave: Awash with both kinetic and surreal attributes, this two part painted abstraction appears to many as a cresting wave.  Is it?

No, and yes. Often when I paint I deliberately shift away from that instinct to search for meaning in what I’m seeing and paint what’s floating in my mind’s eye – entanglements of color, shape, form, motion, an essence of a feeling or an idea. Painting in this mindset feels to me as though I am translating from invisible to visible, from intangible to tangible. While I am creating I stay “right brained” and don’t engage in “left brained” analytical interpretations or judgements of what I am creating. Discovering this continuously enjoyable path through a non-analytical space is calmly surprising. Dare I say blissful?

And so on the first day I worked on this painting I was taken by surprise when I stepped back and saw a wave.  Why a wave? I do live in a town with lots of waterfalls and a lake, but the lake is not known for its waves (neither are the waterfalls). I hadn’t been to the seashore in a long time. Why would I paint a wave?

I didn’t. I painted a motion. The second word in the title, “Parting Wave”, for me represents the motion of the wave of my arm as I first approached the canvas and swept a loaded palette knife across in a big, spontaneous motion. The movement was so big that I quickly grabbed another canvas and placed it next to the one I was painting just in time to catch the complete motion of my arm. That spontaneous motion and grab, not calculated planning, led to the two part component of construction.

These two parts, with the inevitable gap between, are represented in the “Parting” part of the title.  The phrase “Parting Wave” doubles as a farewell, a bid adieu, a wave goodbye to that which, like a real wave of water, was temporary and now almost forgotten.

Adjustable Part

Back in physical reality, the width of the parting (gap) is adjustable. In my current art show I’ve hung these pieces with a small ~1-2 inch wide gap between.  For one current owner of the two piece gallery wrapped print set of “Parting Wave”, the two piece construction led to their own creative hanging with a much wider gap:

Creative Hanging of Parting Wave by Alison Shull

Real Surreal, Relax

By now have you noticed the “construction” your brain makes for you with the contents of this painting? Unless you are the exception, every person who has spoken with me about this painting refers to it as “The Wave”. For the first few seconds of this video make a careful observation of the waves.  What do you notice about these – real – waves that differs visually from what appears in “Parting Wave”? Once you’ve had enough thinking time, treat yourself to some thought-free relaxation time while the clip plays out:

Relaxed now? Did you notice that the foamy white crests of real ocean waves lead the waves, while the white bits in “Parting Wave” lag the “front” of the “wave”?  Ah ha! But that doesn’t seem to stop any of us from seeing a semblance of a water wave in “Parting Wave”. I’ve always enjoyed these types of subtle surreal elements in art. They allow me moments of both entertainment and wonder.  How about you?

Of course what this image reveals to you could, and should, differ. Getting to hear the range of what others “see” when viewing my art is the best part of sharing it publicly.

I recently came across photographs containing wonderfully surreal elements by a new young artist, Noell Oszvald.   Like me I suspect she sees sharing her art as a way of sharing bits and pieces of what exists in her mind.  And perhaps when enough people ask her, she too will write a blog post about that.

Your Own Parting Wave

Parting Wave by Alison Shull

Like Parting Wave on your screen?  You could have it on your wall too…currently available  prints of “Parting Wave” are for sale from $50 – $575 depending on size and print type. In person in Ithaca, NY you can view prints of “Parting Wave” at Fine Line Bistro (through Apr. 22) and Contemporary Trends (year round).

Alison Shull is an artist who is not aiming to answer fundamental issues of consciousness, though she does claim her paintings are products of her mind’s eye. View more of her art at her on-line gallery

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