top of page


Inspired by the Henry Miller comment that he liked to "piss away the afternoon doing watercolors, not hurting anyone.

Inspired by Goethe's "subjective halos", "phosphenes", "entoptics" and "photopsia"


I shut my eyes in order to see.
Paul Gauguin

While teaching concrete/non-objective forms of painting this week I realized that more than play, per se, more than conceptualism, historicism or ideology (all given due attention), my personal efforts in the studio—while informed by all of this—are at this stage in my career more toward a renewed experience of awe, wonder, aesthetic arrest, a peculiar form of ecstatic sensory experience that makes me feel most alive and present in the world—with a brush in my hand.  I return to painting for such moments of grace, moments in which I realize the limits of mind and intention, when I suspend mental chatter and reconnect to the primacy of perception in gratitude; the art as a vehicle, a meditation, a prayer that grounds me--and I hope others.

While laying in the sun with Isabel recently at Salishan on the Siletz Bay I enjoyed the flow of color on the back of my eyelids, the flow, intricate luminosity and floaters witnessed as a phenomenon worth noticing. Of course everyone has done so for fun, pressing here and there to create blushes and swells of color: orange, yellow, hot pinks, deep purple, etc... in fact Goethe wrote about it and other aspects of color theory in a work published in 1810. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to engage such optical phenomena as a point of departure, much as I did the water in the bay, toward a new palette with new inspiration, flow, luminosity...about the liminal visual realm between interior and exterior sight, possibly even bioluminescent biophotons, the leaky boundary that blurs what we normally consider distinctly different interior visual stuff and the visible exterior world.


Increasing the pressure on the eyeball produces more dramatic phosphenes. One procedure is to apply the index fingers at the inner edge of the eyeballs and press in and toward the temples. The visual field lights up and then, as pressure is maintained for a few seconds, a scintillating design appears - a kind of checkerboard or shifting field of glowing dots, sometimes with elaborate substructures arrayed around a luminous centre. When the pressure is released, the checkerboard fades away, sometimes leaving the central luminosity. If the pressure is then renewed, a pattern of bright, irregular lines appears that resembles a system of blood vessels. When the pressure is again released, a fine filigree image appears and remains for some time. The checkerboard design is probably some manifestation of the orderliness of the neural network of the retina; it shifts in the visual field as the gaze is shifted. The filigree, on the other hand, may be generated farther along the visual pathway, since it remains stationary regardless of where one looks. However, there is a degree of individual sensitivity; some people can make phosphenes occur regularly with little provocation and after-images which last a long time, others cannot (Oster 1970:83-4; Brindley 1963).

bottom of page