bruce riley

︎Artist, Painting, Abstract
︎ Ventral Is Golden

Psychedelic artist, Bruce Riley produces large-scale, resin based artworks, often utilising mistake and chance into the production of each piece. Here we look further into the philosophical aspects that constitute this art making process.

Whilst at University I had a preoccupation with the philosophies of the Sceptics, the Naturalists and the Existentialists who all seemed to derive their viewpoints through the importance of human experience, or empiricism. From David Hume, to Nietzsche, Sarte and Camus. However, I felt that the human condition was a tortured one through their eyes, a struggle for meaning in an essentially meaningless universe. Over the last few years of working within the educational system, I too found vestigial elements of this in pedagogical approaches, that seemed to curtail the human spirit by condemning it to be a symptomatic condition of an overarching industrial enterprise, measured only against financial recuperation. I developed the impression that self exploration and the empiricism of the existentialists was essentially one of selfishness and diminishing returns; the Abyss felt all too empty.

David Hume once wrote, "In vain should I strain my faculties, and endeavour to receive pleasure from an object, which is not fitted by nature to affect my organs with delight. I may give myself pain by my fruitless endeavours; but shall never reach any pleasure."

What I think he was referring to here was essentially what he saw as a distinction between 'the art of humans' and 'the art of nature', and insofar as we create artefacts of beauty, they can never rival the awe of a natural occurrence. I partly agree, but this depends largely on if you have the viewpoint that art is even created at all, or if there is a more fitting verb that could be appropriated from outside the lexicon of production.

A person who is 'inspired' can often be thought of as absorbing the essence of a moment and materialising it, but this is not exclusively a human trait. A Japanese Puffer Fish for example, too becomes inspired to produce sand mandalas in order to attract a mate. We wouldn't necessarily speak of the Puffer Fish as an artist, but as an organism deeply entrenched within the fractal patterns of its environment.
Bruce Riley's creations are indicative of this process, simultaneously involving premeditated and spontaneous actions to create his fluidly fragmented mandalas that resemble cross sections of generative quantum material.
“Bruce Riley's creations are indicative of this process, simultaneously involving premeditated and spontaneous actions.“

By taking the original sense of 'inspired', (Latin, spirare) we are given the notion of inhalation. This was often thought of as a divine breath which quickens or stimulates an effect and is the same root as more negative words such as 'conspire', which essentially means 'to breath together'.

Having personally realised an inherent misunderstanding of existentialist terms such as 'the absurd', 'nothingness' and Sarte's infamous quote that 'nature is mute', I came across an idea, or rather an idea came across me, of 'Peak Experience'. It was an idea coined by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who's theories I had largely been switched off from during my post-graduate education as a teacher, until now.

Peak Experience is the phenomena of experiencing exhilaration, magic, deeply resounding and sometimes unexplained feelings of heightened emotion, often mystic in nature, that bestow on the person a sense of truth and connectedness. This might come from a long walk, reading a poem, solving a quadratic equation or stroking a cat. For Marcel Proust this came when his mother offered him a cup of tea and a Petite Madeline. He wrote "No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory".
For Maslow, these feelings were achieved through the 'self actualisation' of his students. When a task was given and they were able to surpass the intention of the outcome, apply personal and intuitive contexts, a sense of accomplishment was felt, but a spiritual accomplishment.

In these resin paintings, Riley evokes the idea of my interpretation of the Peak Experience; Teleology.
Teleology, a greek term loosely relating to 'distant purpose', or in other words 'intrinsic intelligence', was an idea that Charles Darwin, looking to move away from the oppressive dogmas of religion (albeit whilst still being a Christian), discounted in favour of a 'survival of the fittest' viewpoint of natural selection. On the other hand, co-creator of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russell Wallace, could not account for the evolution of ideas, art, mathematics, and all the things associated with the higher faculties of the human mind, through natural selection alone.
He instead thought that there was a purpose to evolution, an attractor, pulling us out of the monkey body and toward something else, something similar to that which was the cause of Marcel Proust's tea and cake experience.

With David Hume's quote on the hierarchy of man made art and natural art, I would go as far as to say that the distinction is negligible, and what we see in the pieces of Riley, is the idea that his artworks emerge from without, from a personal attraction with his environment, and are thus environment incarnate. The composer, Ned Rorem, once remarked that "inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced", and is often why we can never quite put our finger on where our inspiration comes from, or our moments of despair. But I would attest that there is a kind of teleology to nature, an intelligence that generates within us the capacity to reveal new forms and compositions.

“Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced, and is often why we can never quite put our finger on where our inspiration comes from, or our moments of despair.”

Like the acorn is pulled toward the Oak tree, we too are pulled towards self reflection, and in doing so, become a production of nature herself, to revel in the delights of composition, sound, colour, taste and sensation, which in turn give us the ability to appreciate the distant intelligences, of animals such as the mandala making Puffer fish, or the resin abstractions of Bruce Riley.

So inhale deeply, because the Abyss is not so empty after all.

Further Reading ︎
Images sourced from Bored Panda, Interview
Artist Flickr page
'Remembrance of Past Things', Proust