Focal point

I have toyed with a project for some time that involves trying to capture what you see when you close your eyes, writes Lewis Blackwell.

First Published in

I have toyed with a project for some time that involves trying to capture what you see when you close your eyes. The infinite variety of images, that abstract screening that takes place just for you, is a mystery I want to celebrate and unravel. It's where light and body merge, energy and matter, the end of the real but not quite the dream… and seems to me to be a rich visual resource left largely unmapped through time.

So it was with both delight and irritation that I read of the paintings of Mark Rothko being compared to what you see when you close your eyes. An article by Jonathan Jones in the London Guardian Weekend magazine spoke of "paintings that seem to exist on the skin inside an eyelid. They are what you might imagine might be the last lights, the final flickers of colour that register in a mind closing down. Or at the end of the world." These may seem glum thoughts, perhaps, but as a fan of Rothko's work I can think of worse things to view on that last long journey into night.

My delight at reading of the comparison was because I felt it to be true. My irritation was that this concept of "what you see when your eyes are closed" is one that I foolishly thought was mine, a creative zone to play in with no chance of interlopers. How arrogant this was of me.

Of course, I cannot hope or desire that my work matches the tragic grandeur of Rothko's images… but at least I can now see that I am en route to being his abject copyist. Or perhaps not… as I said, I believe this is an area of imagery that has hardly been explored at all, Rothko or not. I can hold onto some purpose and focus to my interest and still feel some motivation to continue. This is because my quest is altogether more literal than Rothko (who doubtless had no such intention in his explorations of colour fields). My interest is in literally trying to find a way of intimating and even recording things you see when you close your eyes: I'll need to be a scientist, as well as an artist, to pull it off.

Why? You may well ask. Why not? Is, of course, the reply. But I also think there is something rational to be said for the project, as well as the fact that somehow it emotionally works for me. In fact, I think it is a project that seems very Now. We are desperately in need of seeing the reality of our images in a new way.

Consider how imagery is increasingly, if not almost overwhelmingly, digital in the nature of its construction. Shot on film, perhaps, but in transmission through print - such as this page - or on a poster or a monitor or whatever, it will almost inevitably be taken through a digital process. It is also highly likely to be 'post-produced' to some degree, taken into image manipulation software and cleaned up, heightened a little here, softened a little there, etc.

So imagery tends to be taken into this digital space, reduced to an abstraction of pixels, behind which sits a further abstraction, ultimately reduced to strings of 1 and 0. In the blur of a close-up of an image under the influence of Photoshop, you can see something strangely familiar… a blur of intense soft colour made up of uncertain sparkling dots… rather like the inside of your eyelids.

The close-up digital space and the short view out to the edge of our eyes have much in common. They are information reduced to its abstract elements, with us no longer able to view its familiar structures, but instead we see remarkable new patterns. Patterns that are as much the projection from within as anything filtering from outside.

We project our thoughts. Be it trying to decode and enrich the figurative in the Photoshop detail, or be it imposing some sense of life on the pulsating flesh of our eyelids. And while talking of the pulse, one of the patterns I see with eyes closed reminds me of nothing so much as the beautiful little pulse on an iBook computer when it is sleeping (a small soft light that just glows in and out, as if breathing).

Rothkos, iBooks, colour blindness charts… these are the things that come to my mind quickly. But there are infinite other readings to be had.

Oh well, now I have shared my strange obsession with the inner view. Nothing spiritual, I hasten to add, all very much to do with looking for the join where science meets art.

By way of illustration of the infinite possibilities, I am going to hand over the magazine art director to illustrate. Any image, absolutely any image or images will do, dear art director. Just be sure to drop it into Photoshop and make it absolutely impossible to work out what it was originally. But do not, maestro of the design process, create your own image without that initial input from the alleged world of the real. Do not replace God with a new God of your own skill. Instead, draw on the light. Holding onto a sense of that is what eyes are for.