“Timbers of Swirling Chaos”

(66″ x 60″) 24,857 brushstrokes, 2010

Artistic Concept Paul Kirby’s initial impulse for this painting was to create an edgy, dark, intense experience. Swirling energy passing destructively through “pickup sticks” provided the initial imaginative spark. 


Initial 9” clay model.

Timber wire-frame structure with background lighting.

Round cyan breadcrumbs and red, ant-deposited pebbles.


Dark and mysterious with visible signature.

Artistic Development Conceptual images for the ominous atmosphere, color and lighting, were borrowed from how the dark, misty moors might appear in Sherlock Holmes’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”  A scaled, clay model, with balsa-wood sticks, was instrumental in further evolving this concept.

 If you start with images of trees in a forest, and then build a clay model with thin, wooden sticks representing trees, you would imagine all the ends of the sticks stuck into the clay, representing the trees in a forest. 

 However, the initial artificial-intelligence rules for seeding the timbers in this three-dimensional, mathematical world did not specify that the timbers had to be “grounded.”  What a pleasant artistic surprise when the jagged lower-ends of some of the timbers ominously floated overhead, enhancing the desired artistic effect for the painting.

 The foggy, misty sky and dark atmosphere used a technique called sfumato, from the realm of Renaissance techniques.

Technical Description Parts of this painting were created using a form of artificial intelligence called Complex Adaptive Systems.  Paul wanted to continue evolving his approach from previous paintings of using “ants and breadcrumbs,” along with stigmergy and subsumptive architecture.  The goal here was to progress from the ants 2D environment into a 3D world, an evolution akin to the ways Renaissance painters looked at perspective and added depth to their art. (Ref the brown “Nested Curves” painting)

Creating Ants in a 3-D World For the swirling energy at the center of the painting, Paul wanted three-dimensional helical splines inside the mathematical cubic simulation. Next, Paul inserted breadcrumbs in the cube along these spline lines for the ants to discover. Then he randomly dropped a colony of 10,000 ants in and allowed them to wander around three-dimensionally in this virtual world.

Breadcrumbs and Pebbles When an ant discovered a breadcrumb, it would deposit a pebble. To speed up the simulation of the ants’ work efforts, pheromones were added, an element which left a chemical trail, but which also decayed with time. Later, pebbles were collected and converted into brush strokes representing swirling flashes of energy.

Summary The developmental interplay of the artistic story and technical scheme created an exciting opportunity in Paul’s quest for the fusion of art and science.

As hoped for, the painting captures the swirling, malevolent energy and elicits emotion in the viewer, leaving a lingering trail of questions to keep the viewer engaged.