FMP: Final Works

Early on in the FMP, I had the idea for a way of ‘illustrating’ my own view of FW&D (that ‘free will’ is all about the future and how we bring it about while ‘determinism’ is about the past and what events led up to now: the two are neither compatible nor incompatible, they describe wholly unconnected circumstances). It would contain both forward moving actions that one might guess at but could never accurately predict and reversed actions showing how we might determine how some situation came about. I hired out a video camera and tripod and made the initial film in the studio darkroom. I then edited the centre portion in Premiere Pro to reverse the action.

I think this film successfully conveys my idea, clearly and simply, and has a clean and colourful aesthetic. The only thing I might do differently next time is to ensure the ‘colour’ of the lighting was cooler.


From the Loughborough Market video stills, I traced outlines of people, singly and together, into Illustrator. These were placed within a 60cm wide circle as if the people were walking towards the centre. The idea was that figures and the circle would be lasercut from MDF; I would then film frames of an animation with figures rising out of their cut-out shapes and moving in towards the centre of the circle as the whole was rotated. It was meant to emulate people coming together at a demonstration and was inspired by the chapter in Baggini, ‘The Dissident’ (p 102), about free will being consistent with people sometimes acting in ways that they feel is the only way they could act (because of what they believe and feel).

Illustrator file of planned lasercut piece

In looking for ways that I might get the figures to stand up and yet be moveable, I made one sample piece with only a few figures with small rectangular bases at their feet. After trying out ways of moving and fixing the figures, I turned this piece into a sculpture with the title ‘Stand Up’. It represents they way that ordinary people will rise up from the norm and stand for what is right. I thought about painting the sculpture but decided to leave it as is – the laser burn marks represent the difficulty and danger involved in standing out. The originally envisaged film did not get made for lack of time.

Illustrator file

I also made an animation by taking photographs of the sculpture while it was lit with a torch and then rotating it by one or two degrees before taking the next shot. I made three of these animations, two with photographs of the shadows and one with the sculpture and shadows.

I made another film in Premiere Pro by mixing one film with another that was reversed: this had an eerie sense of interrupted movement provoking a feeling of mounting anxiety. Although interesting, I think more work would need to be done to make these animations and films successful pieces of art.

The idea for my first oil painting came from the Stoic concept of a ‘swerve’ (see Baggini p 19). This is a rather nonsensical way of twisting free will out of a deterministic world, but I had the idea to take the term literally. After several sketches, I started work on this painting. The colours came from my palette with the fence, forest and car being settled easily but the hare and road changing several times until I had a colour composition that worked. I had painted a red acrylic ground on the board to start with and patches showed through the foliage of the forest: I left this unfinished as the red seemed to accentuate the chaos of the greens and browns, picking up on the ‘swerve’ concept. I really liked the result: the painting has a stillness that contrasts with the subject and a sense of mystery about what will happen next.

The Swerve, oil on board, 2020

The second painting is called “Laplace’s Demon” after the thought-experiment from Laplace about a demon who ‘knows’ the position of and the forces acting upon every particle in the universe and who could therefore deduce everything in the past and the future. Determinism is the idea that such a demon is theoretically possible (Baggini, pp 9-10 & 12).

I based the demon figure on Blake’s “Newton” as Blake ‘was critical of Newton’s reductive, scientific approach and so shows him merely following the rules of his compass, blind to the colourful rocks behind him’ (quote). The composition of the painting was built in Photoshop using the Blake painting and some stock photographs. I made several sketches until I was satisfied with the composition and then made the painting. It, too, went through several variations in colour but with less success than the previous work.

Laplace’s Demon, oil on board, 2020

There are parts I do like – the hands of the demon are expressive (with a Ken Kiff quality to them), the ground colour showing through on both the paper and smartphone accentuate the ephemerality of any future prediction and the front half of the wombat reflects an Australian self-possession in the face of natural chaos. But the rest is a mess: the demon is too blob-like, and its wings largely unconnected to the body, the middle ground overwhelms everything and the ground showing through in the far background looks unfinished rather than deliberate..

After completing these two paintings, I wanted to work on something a bit quicker and simpler. I had been collecting images from fashion magazines which featured the heads of women, mainly models. I started sketching these portraits on A2 cartridge paper using a range of media: oil crayons, watercolour pencils, Inktense blocks, marker pens, charcoal etc.  Working on one, two or more a day, I had created thirty of these works up to the end of the FMP.

I enjoy the freedom involved in this way of working and am building up a knowledge of the colours and forms that most interest me. The styles reflect all my reading but especially artists included in the books, ‘Painting People’, ‘Picturing People’, and ‘A Brush with the Real’ such as Chantal Joffe, Elizabeth Peyton, Anna Bjerger, Karin Hanssen, Eduardo Berliner, Tim Eitel and Hesam Rahmanian.

There is a quote in Baggini from psychologist Michael Gazzaniga that responsibility and freedom are found ‘in the space between brains, in the interaction between people’ (p 134). I liked the phrase ‘the space between brains’ and it spawned a series of monotypes inspired by Ben Quilty’s ‘Rorschach’ paintings.

The monotypes were created by painting a self-portrait onto an acetate sheet then pressing another acetate sheet on top of that and rolling them through the press to transfer ink from one to the other. I then printed the two sheets side by side to produce several such ‘Rorschach’ prints. I produced another by printing the two plates one after the other on the same piece of paper, overlapping one over the other.

They were of variable quality, but the later ones had a luminous feel that was intriguing and they received favourable feedback from a fellow printmaker. I intend to do more with this technique but with portraits of other people.

My third and fourth oil paintings are both derived from the same source, Kant’s idea of the noumenal world (from which, he claims, free will derives) versus the phenomenal world (the deterministic world of scientific measurement). ‘Phenomenal’ shows a Mars-type rover (signifying the phenomenal world) leading a blind and deaf figure (representing the noumenal), while ‘Noumenal’ shows the noumenal trying to reach the phenomenal world via a crystal ball. Both works show the silliness of postulating some ethereal world which has no connection to the physical world yet, somehow, controls it.

‘Phenomenal’ is the best of my four paintings. The golden figure with its bewildered expression set against the flat green grass is isolated, leaving it lost and purposeless while the rover, with its forward-looking eyes and sense of movement, looks purposeful. The background has an Edward Scissorhands feel to it with the featureless pastel houses and looming church while the huge pink sun and dark blue sky accentuate a sense of threat. The three older people on the park bench provide the only ‘normality’ in the image though the sketchy feel (inspired by the approach of Susie Hamilton) of the figures show that they are barely holding on in this world.

Phenomenal, oil on board, 2020

‘Noumenal’ is a more simplistic image though I like its graphic quality. The flatness of the paint and of the objects in most of the image and the contradictory spatial relationships between objects lend the scene an ethereal, unreal quality. The colours in the image tie it to the ‘Phenomenal’ painting without insisting on any symbolic links between like-coloured objects.

Preliminary sketch
Noumenal, oil on board, 2020

If there had been a final show, I would have included the three successful paintings ‘The Swerve’, ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘Noumenal’, the ‘Free Will and Determinism’ title film, the animation ‘Causa Sui’ and the sculpture ‘Stand Up’ (and, perhaps, two or three of the A2 portraits).

The paintings are the culmination of my work on the FMP. But more important is knowing that I now have the ability to translate the images in my head into paint and to know when they are or are not working as pieces of art.