Leonardo da Vinci was the first European creative thinker to write about the importance of making art by introducing random and chance events to create artistic patterns. He advised people to contemplate the walls, clouds, pavements, encountered in their everyday environment, with the idea of looking for patterns and images to conceptually blend with creative thoughts. He would gaze at the stains of walls, the ashes of a fire, the shape of clouds or patterns in mud. He would imagine seeing trees, battles, landscapes, figures with lively movements, etc., and then excite his mind by conceptually blending the subjects and events he imagined to embellish his vision.
It is said that Da Vinci would occasionally throw a paint-filled sponge against the wall and contemplate the random stains and what they might represent. In hurling his paint-filled sponge at the wall Leonardo was initiating a process governed by the second law of thermodynamics. Muscular energy is converted to the squidgy sound energy of impact and the kinetic energy of motion when the sponge's elastic structure is compressed and the paint is ejected. There is also a release of heat energy on impact, which warms the wall ever so slightly. The thermodynamic result is that the energy of muscle contraction has been irreversibly, and unpredicably dispersed into the environment. The outcome is measured as entropy, which is a quantification of how much energy has flowed from being localized, in this case within Leonardo's muscle, to several different forms that have become more widely spread out in the environment. Throwing a sponge provides a demonstration of the increase in entropy that accompanies all processes in the universe. It can be placed alongside other common examples; of hot milk cooling, balloons bursting, forest fires burning, skin wrinkling with age and water flowing down mountains.
John Ruskin, the 19th century art critic, was engaging with the latter demonstration of Earth’s impermanence, in the name of art, when he wrote of the 'frailty of mountains' as follows:
Despite the neglect of randomness in the application of artistic creativity humankind has always showed a predeliction for the decorative effects of random patterns. Examples are the use of polished stones, particularly veined marble, to furnish buildings, and the derived craft of marbling paper, which was used widely in 19th century book binding.
The study of human ageing which respresents the work of random biochemical process often begins with the skin by highlighting its loss of elasticity expressed in inevitable well-defined changes in physical properties, which include thinning, sagging, wrinkling and the appearance of age spots, broken blood vessels and areas of dryness. This is known as intrinsic ageing, also known as the natural ageing process. It is a continuous process that normally begins in the mid-20s due to intrinsic changes in the chemical bonds of the extracellular connective tissue of which collagen fibres are dominant. Collagen production slows, and elastin, the substance that enables stretched skin to snap back into place, becomes less springing. Elastic bands stored in a draw mimic the increased chances of death with the passage of time. These changes in skin usually proceed relentlessly at a rate that intrigued Rembrant who left more than eighty paintings, etchings and drawings of himself recording his facial appearance throughout his career. Effects of time and environment are already written on his face in a self portrait produced in 1657, age 51, where he explored the subtle colouring and textures of ageing skin with startling objectivity (Fig 4).
He wrote in 1914 (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) that: "The inner need is the basic alike of small and great problems in painting. We are seeking today for the road which is to lead us away from the outer to the inner basis. The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting point for the exercise of his spirit. The starting point is the study of colour and its effect on men. There is no need to engage in the finer shades of complicated colour, but rather at first to consider only the direct use of simple colours".
"Avoiding all control, I spread out sheets of white paper or canvas in the nature. For some time they stay in the grass, in the rushes of river, in the meadows or in the mountains. Nature registers its presence, covering the surface of the paper with colors, forms and tracks. This process is controlled by a number of agents; such as space and time, substance and causality. It is governed by nature’s intensity. It does not, depend on man’s interference. Nature is the greatest and most admirable creator, and unlike logic it doesn’t fail.The artist obligation is not to shape -handicraft, but to understanding the riddles of reality. In such conception of Art there lies, as in the Universe itself, an immense richness, and a countless variety of forms."
Fig 9 One of Jill Randall's nature registrations created in the Parys Mountain copper mine
The stained registrations on the Randall’s art substrate reflect the mineralised colours in the walls of the mine. Both kinds of chemical interactions are also open to interactions with the concrete surfaces of the art works of Michael Deane which demonstrate that hardness can be deceiving.Despite its reputation for intransigence, concrete is a uniquely subtle, delicate material. The surface of any motorway flyover, housing block or city pavement reveals a spectrum of patinas through which concrete absorbs and reflects its surroundings. Metal fixings soak rusty stains into their concrete bases; shoes and rubber tyres apply patient layers of dirt and oil onto walkways and roads, and rainwater causes streaks of colouration to develop across walls. Michael Dean exploits this aspect of his material’s versatility in surprising ways. He makes objects that betray intricate records of their histories on their outer surfaces. Even the mineral content of tap water can dramatically affect the way concrete looks. It remains porous when hard, so oils from contact with human skin give it an organic quality. Some of Dean’s works have the uncanny appearance of elephant hide, dark whale skin or cured panels of leather; others resemble nothing so much as giant fossils, plant matter preserved and fractured beneath layers of peat bog. All of these associations are, to different degrees, ancient, and make us forget that the sculptures they cling to only recently came into the world through his efforts.