Thursday, 26 January 2012

Elephant No. 116: Movement of Liquid Down a Vertical Surface

Surprising as it may seem, Movement of a Liquid Down a Vertical Surface is the official name of this Surrealist technique. When I first read about it, I thought of the betting books at private clubs in Georgian London, in which men wagered on which raindrop would hit the windowsill first. This particular technique amounts to pretty much the same thing.

According to the scant information I was able to find online, this technique was invented by Surrealists in Romania. To them, it was considered a surautomatic art related to indecipherable writing. The technique itself was simple: make a picture by dripping, drizzling or allowing a liquid to simply flow down a vertical surface. The idea was either to use the resulting forms to inspire an image, or to attempt to create a pleasing form by controlling the flow and placement of the liquid.

I couldn't find a single online image of this technique. On the other hand, anyone who has applied either too thin, or too much, paint to a vertical surface has seen this principle in action.

Since there was so little information on how to proceed, I was free to interpret it as I pleased. My tools were simple: a bunch of acrylic paints, a little squeeze bottle that I last used for my mendhi debacle and a 10 x 15.25 cm  (4 x 6-inch) canvas board propped up vertically against my kitchen backsplash.

This is obviously a very hard technique to control if you're actually trying to produce something representational. I had no idea what to expect, so I was very hesitant at first, as you can see.

I used a fairly watery paint so that it would flow well. It flowed a little too well, but if I kept the paint  any thicker, it was more like my experiment with bulletism, so I decided to make the best of watery paint.

As you can see in the photo above, the paint pools considerably at the bottom. I found it useful to put down some wax paper, topped with paper towels. I also began to notice that, when you drip new paint on the canvas, it is wildly attracted to any existing paint. This creates a sort of branching effect. Serendipitously, however, in the photograph below I could start to see something that looked to me like an elephant hiding in long grass.

I started adding more colours, not really knowing what I was doing, and not sure how I was going to address the way everything rolled to the bottom. I didn't really want it to look like an elephant curtain, but I hadn't figured out what to do about it.

Then I realized that I could flip it around and make the paint go the other way. It was too late to save the bottom, but I thought it might look interesting if I added new lines going in the opposite direction, to separate the elephant shape a bit. It wasn't a brilliant success, but it was worth a try. I also tried tipping the canvas in different directions. I don't recommend this, however, as the process becomes even more chaotic and unmanageable.

It then occurred to me that water is also a liquid that could move down this particular vertical surface. In other words, there was nothing to say that I couldn't shoot water at some of the paint to wash it away. So I did that too, particularly under the trunk area. Having a bottle with a very tiny nozzle is helpful for blasting away excess paint. Obviously this would only work with a water-based paint—and acrylics in particular, because they have a rubbery consistency that blasts away quite nicely.

I wasn't entirely sure I liked the faded look under the trunk, and I also thought the whole thing needed a bit more modelling, so I mixed some paint with a lot of white in it and drizzled that under the trunk. To finish, I mixed some darker paint to fill in some of the white I'd just added. It's a fiddly process, to be sure.

This would be kind of fun if you had no real expectations—in other words, if you were approaching it as a proper Surrealist. It's not the easiest activity, however, if you're trying to make something recognizable. I disliked it so much at one point that I started an even less successful version, and briefly thought about giving up entirely and starting a whole different activity. That would have made no sense, however, so I stuck it out.

It's a bit messy, but not all that time-consuming. This took me a little over an hour, including my extra attempt (which lasted about ten minutes).

It's certainly no perfect work of art, but I don't hate it as much as I thought I would. It has a weird underwater look that I almost like. It may even grow on me—eventually.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In regions in which elephant populations are on the rise—usually due to reduced poaching and the creation of artificial watering holes—researchers have discovered that the populations of other herbivores are declining. 

It was originally thought that the reason for the decline of certain species was that elephants were chasing other animals away from the watering holes. When researcher Marion Valeix set out to see if this was the case at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, she was surprised to find that the opposite was true.

Instead of running away from watering holes when elephants arrived, nine herbivore species—including the wildebeest, warthog, buffalo and zebra—increased their drinking time by as much as 40%. Valeix believes that elephants may actually make other herbivores feel safer from predators, noting that she has seen lions back away from buffalo at a watering hole as soon as elephants approach.

According to Valeix, it is also possible that drinking time increases because other herbivores are nervous around elephants and spend extra time keeping an eye on the pachyderms. The only way to test this theory, however, is to study the amount of time animals spend looking around while at a watering hole with elephants.

As for declining populations of other herbivores in areas where elephants are making a comeback, it is more likely that smaller herbivores are unable to compete with elephants for food. Elephants eat trees in particular, leaving less for other tree-eating herbivores such as giraffes.

Elephant and impalas at watering hole.
Photo: Daryl Balfour/NHPA

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 
Elephants Without Borders

No comments:

Post a Comment