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Depth Perception


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First published September 7th 2013

Detail illustrating the choices in shape, size and degrees of contrast to adequately capture the original form.
Detail illustrating the choices in shape, size and degrees of contrast to adequately capture the original form.

Related to the high aesthetic value placed on an economy of lines in a skillful drawing, I’ve been working on finding a vector-based style that simplifies the high detail of other mediums. The success of the style relies a lot on the subjective cognitive perceptions of depth and detail – the filling in of these qualities by our eyes and brains when confronted with a primitive form. It’s turning out to be a really interesting creative experience.

A favourite photograph of a favourite sculpture, originally part of the eastern pediment of the Parthenon and now residing in the British Museum.

This sculptural element is part of the the oddly named Elgin Marbles, presently resident in the British Museum having been transposed from its original position on the east pediment of the Parthenon. It has always been a real great favorite of mine.
It’s been proposed that the figures are Hestia, Dione and Aphrodite, formed as part of a narrative about the birth of Athena. Another suggestion is that the two figures on the right are the personification of the Sea, Thalassa, in the lap of the Earth, Gaia. They are also remarkable for their naturalistic portrayal of anatomy blended with the beautiful rendering of light drapery across the bodies. In any case an amazing achievement, which also now encapsulates so much visual poetry thanks to the embellishments and vicissitudes of, at least culturally speaking, deep time. The absence of the heads always seemed like a completion to me, not just because that’s how they come to us in our time, but because, though we clearly tell ourselves they are missing, they appear as a complete object. Looters of some description would have removed the heads and we are left with a banality that has somehow added a great poetic quality to them, some hazy artful metaphor for consciousness/mindlessness and absence whilst successfully appearing complete. This sculpture is more important to me than a lot other artworks.

A vector-based simplification of the photograph, featuring 20,000 polygonal forms.
A vector-based simplification of the photograph, featuring 20,000 polygonal forms.

The polygonal version of the image is derived by tracing the form of the original photographic image. As a rule points of contrast become natural borders in the choice of the size and shape of the individual vector shapes.
Having made a vector version of a digital photograph, the form is infinitely scalable. At a width of two meters, the image captures the impression of photographic detail from a distance (as above), whilst closeup, the angular form disrupts the degree of detail we might expect to see on approach.
elgin-2This optical illusion creates a double-edged aesthetic, where the economy and accuracy of form at close up can be expressed whilst contributing to the overall impression of the composition as a whole.
elgin-1elgin-3