nicholas nicola etchings



'Dark Matter Nebula.’  6” X 4”. sepia. aquatint. sugarlift. zinc plate. 

    A  rather benign, somewhat experimental work. In any case you may wish to consider the following discussion.

 The art of Jasper Johns is noted for challenging the viewer’s perception of reality such as diffusing the reality between ‘high art’ and the ‘everyday object’ which echoes the Duchampian concept of the readymade; yet what interests me more so about the art of this intriguing American artist is a far deeper philosophical questioning of trusting our physical senses to perceive what is physically ‘actual’ or real through his disorienting/decontextualizing use of everyday subject matter to make the eye ‘work’ at trying to ‘realize’ what exactly it is looking at for there is an ambiguity to his paintings and prints which leads the viewer to uncomfortably realize all is not what it seems; his art echoes Magritte (who Jasper Johns admires) to some extent but I feel there is a clarity to Magritte’s visual manipulations which can be eventually sorted but not so in a ready way with Jasper Johns. Yet, what Jasper Johns aims for is to extend the viewer’s mind beyond what is ‘real’ - that is: the usual 'illusion trickery' of perspective which is the standard bearer of much that is considered as normal art practice since the time of the Renaissance. However, perspective is actually a ‘mirage on the eyes’ making the viewer believe in a three dimensional representative space which does not really exist; which in reality is actually impossible to exist on the two dimensional ‘window’ plane of the canvas. Modern physics with - for example - the formulation of quantum physics, comes into play for we now know that what appears stable to us in the physical world is merely different combinations of buzzing particles that create in contradictory ways different aspects of matter from gas plumes to liquids to so called ‘solid’ steel. Perspective merely deceives the eye to convince the brain that what is being viewed is as real as the ‘real world.’ Yet, neither the scene painted or the actual scene that is being copied by the artist can be viewed as being what they truly are. Our five senses more or less convince us that what is around us is real in much the same way that Renaissance perspective convinces us what we see on the picture plane is real; yet we are learning that our five senses are merely filtering to us a ‘reality’ that our minds can cope with as other aspects of reality such as the multi-dimensional reality of a microscopic quantum universe - which helps to create what we see - is held back from our daily conscious perception of everyday matter. Perhaps, just as well, for it is a micro-universe difficult for us to conceptually comprehend. However, if human consciousness is to reach full fruition - so as to reach a fuller humanness - what Jasper Johns confronts our senses with in his art - that disrupts our present conditioned way of looking at the world - is to be very welcomed.

 The unconscious could be equated with the nether world of quantum physics while the ‘high conscious’ Neo-platonic realm of Ideal Forms advocated from the time of Aristotle all the way up to the time of Plotinus in the early foundation centuries of Christianity is more akin to the Theory of Relativity. It seems even that for the last few hundred years the matter of the Universe has been seen as a uniform substance as it has become accepted theory that the same star particles that form the Earth and the living things on it – including human beings – and that have formed (and continue to form) the furthest celestial fires from us are essentially the same; it is in the process of cooling and local cosmic variations that different molecular structures form different materials as varied as living cells to rock to blood to water. The universe as uniform equates to a universe that is a stable entity yet we know quantum theory defies that ‘secure’ evaluation and there is much effort these days to resolve what is in state of pre-ordained uniformity with what is in constant inconsistent unpredictable flux. Thus, one may put forward the artistic challenge that in much the same way science is seeking an overall unified theory of everything connecting quantum theory with relative theory art can delve towards a unity between the perceived unified 3-D illusionism of western linear perspective and the metaphysical conceptual explorations into an art quantum ‘fourth dimension’ that Marcel Duchamp pursued and which the likes of Jasper Johns considers.

  Michael Crichton in his book ‘JASPER JOHNS’* states how Cezanne noted that for the painter the eye and the brain had to work together with the eye revealing what nature beholds while the brain could logically organize every visual sensation so as enable the painter to personally express his or her response to nature; what Michael Crichton asserts from Cezanne’s opinion is that in art history although the eye and brain are two poles which complement each other the twentieth century was a time when the brain had the upper hand so to speak over the eye. Certainly, a case in point is Marcel Duchamp’s conceptual art which is aimed at stimulating the mind rather than further exciting the eyes with ‘retinal art’. Visually speaking however it is to be noted that the emergence of Cubism with its emphasis of a multi-perspective fragmented analysis of its subject matter led to a breakdown of the tradition of linear perspective in European art. The mind involves itself in deeper engagement with what the eyes are viewing only on a surface level enabling the viewer to be no longer passive and to become more active in comprehending what is before him or her or, as Duchamp had surmised, it is ultimately the spectator which provides supreme meaning to a work of art. It is the human mind inside each of us (e.g. as artist, as medical practitioner, as physicist, as astronomer, as musician, as historian, as ruler, as ordinary person-on-the-street and so forth) that ultimately provides both social and empirical meaning to the world; to the universe in which we live. 

  It could be said that with ‘mind/conceptual art’ one is no longer simply ‘presented’ with a ‘window’ through which to view a particular reality but one is invited to become involved in shaping what reality may actually be - allowing art to become a catalyst for the mind to consider new conceptual possibilities rather than displaying - or reinforcing - present perceptions. A more interactive dialogue may also be opened up between creator and spectator. All of us may eventually become increasingly aware of the manner in which we give meaning to our existence and to which we can mis/trust that our meaning is ‘true’ or ‘real’ or ‘absolute’ or ‘social’ or relative’ or ‘scientific’ or ‘objective’ or ‘subjective’ or ‘binary’ or ‘un/changing’ and so forth…thus our organic brain by way of that ephemeral mystery ‘within it’ – the mind – can lead to heightened thought processes that allow the synapses – those cerebral connectors – to evolve once more to see with ‘new vision’. In the new age of cyberspace it seems the conceptual experiments of forward thinking artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns can lead to greater human ‘in/sight’ especially when on a cultural and psychological level there may come a redefinition of time – a keystone of our everyday perception of reality - in the same way that Einstein exposed that time itself is relative to the speed of an object in relation to mass and gravity diminishing its former Newtonian absolute quality. 

  As the darkest recesses of the human mind links up more consciously with its ever awakened consciousness to arrive at a higher perception of the world ‘quantum time’ may become as familiar to us as our present understanding of time in relation to theory of relativity. Much more can be considered on this topic for there are also the social conditions of present day reality that art can also explore which also play a major role in our definition and redefinition of reality. (After all, art has always played the dual role of both serving a propaganda purpose for the status quo as well as to initiate an ideological breakdown of the prevailing beliefs of the day to herald in a new status quo that in turn will need to be challenged by new ideas and so on and so on…such is the general cyclic nature of much human activity continually oscillating between tradition to innovation). It is time to make a brief comment on the etching ‘Dark Matter Nebula’ which is a simple work involving a very textured, grainy area surrounding a black area whose outline originates from the ‘shell nebula’ of the etching of that title**. Yet what appears as a straight forward negative space contains ‘dark matter’ which may be viewed as solid yet could also be perceived as invisible and what one is really seeing (through a ‘window’ ) is the immeasurable dark space of the universe with the grainy rock like texture surrounding it could be seen as the uncountable mass of billions of stars that lead to a ‘solid look’ but is truly an ephemeral gaseous cosmic expanse. 

  In other words one may view this image two ways much like the famous hourglass outline that can also be viewed as the profiles of two human faces. What is considered as accepted reality can often be a case of one’s point of view for it was commonly thought the Sun revolved around the Earth as a reflection of theological idea that ‘Man’ as God’s ultimate representative was at the centre of the universe until it was scientifically ‘seen’ that it was rather the Earth that revolved around the Sun. It is not how we actually see the world but rely on an Enlightenment understanding of a cosmic reality that it is us who are actually moving and not the Sun. 

  Thus this etching can be viewed conceptually two ways as a representation of a conceptual appreciation of the dynamism of human perception which still needs to be very much explored as intimated by Jasper Johns and perhaps also by the one great ‘art visionary of the twentieth century: Marcel Duchamp.

* JASPER JOHNS by Michael Crichton. Harry N. Abrams. Inc Publishers. New York in association with the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. (1977).

** See 'Shell Nebula', Gordons Bay on subwebpage Australian landscape and coastal etchings 2012.


 Ghost Nebula.’ 6” X 4”. B&W. aquatint. sugarlift. zinc plate.

 Something that we can see that is no longer there. Astronomers tell us when we look at the stars some of those that we see no longer exist. Thus this etching is what we are viewing is the light released from such now extinguished fiery furnaces. It is simply the case that the light waves have taken uncountable years to reach Earth. What we are seeing with our eyes are ‘light ghosts’ and raises questions about the natural laws of the universe affecting our physical perception of it. Light photons that are real registering an object that is no longer physically present.


 Dark Matter Nebula and the etching which follows Ghost Nebula which are almost identical in shape can be viewed together as a diptych as both look at the underlying theme of human/physical perception and reality. As can be seen in the following trial proof.


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