Last corner of the universe

Last corner of the universe

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In the musings section of his website Millard Arnold attempts to explain his unique approach to life and art. He says: "In its seemingly random symmetry, nature offers a panoply of ideas, concepts, truths and emotions. It pulsates with rhythm and energy; a majestic vitality from which consciousness is drawn and from which life itself is manifested."

The result is a number of seemingly spontaneous, ethereal works that distil the forms and lines of nature into emotionally evocative panoramas — the actual emotion you might feel if sitting quietly and mindfully observing a natural environment.

Though it isn’t necessarily a logical comparison visually, the work of 1920s Dutch artist Piet Mondrian springs to mind. While the artist focused on urban landscapes, abstracting the lines and rectangles to their absolute basics, the work contained a vibrancy that reflected the energy and "spiritual order" underlying the physical environment.

Titles such as Broadway Boogie-Woogie beautifully sum up the vibrancy of New York City and the jazz scene of the time.

Similarly, Arnold draws on the energy of nature and teachings of the Tao to create works such as Spirit Moves Where it Wants or Last Corner of the Universe.

The pieces evoke a sense of mystery and energy underlying the actual physical environment they are portraying.

In works like To Die But Not to Perish is to be Eternally Present the sources of Arnold’s creations are obvious in shape and subtle hues, and we are fully aware of the outline of leaves and branches. But in other works, such as Wandering in Search of Why, lines and colours are wild and tangled with an energy evocative of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, which similarly aimed to suggest the "life force of nature".

What’s really interesting about the painterly rhythms and palettes of Arnold’s works, however, is that the artist has not employed paint as his medium but, surprisingly, photography.

Arnold came to the medium early on and developed a passion for photography and the East while serving in the US Air Force in Thailand as part of the Vietnam war effort. While his career morphed from soldier to sports journalist, lawyer to human rights activist, government official and businessman, the one thing that stayed more or less constant in his life was photography.

"I read everything about photography, be it technical, photo stories and so on and I approach everything with photography in mind. Photography is about seeing what you see. We all look at things, we all take photographs [but the outcome is based on] our interpretation of life, the way we see and appreciate life differently from everyone else."

In Arnold’s early work he took a photojournalistic approach to seeing and shooting the world.

But he soon realised that he wanted to create pieces that were uniquely representative of how he thought about things and which would set him apart from other photographers.

"I realised I didn’t have a unique difference, there was no distinguishing factor. About seven years ago I became attracted to the harmony and sense of rhythm in nature, I realised that what I was seeing was similar to [what I was reading in] the Tao Te Ching. I came to this [abstracted] work in about 2006, it was okay but I couldn’t get to the next level. I picked it up again in about 2011/2012 and it morphed into the more recent representation of the work in 2014. Now I feel that this work is uniquely me."

In terms of process, Arnold says: "I read a passage from the Tao Te Ching every night and the next day I’ll have that in my mind as I go about my day and see if I can find a picture that might align with that concept. Seeing is the most important part. I’ll see a certain rhythm or movement and pick a point to focus on. I take a lot of pictures in my own garden but it could be from anywhere."

The title to this collection, Inner Vision, succinctly sums up what Arnold refers to as an inner exploration. "I’m taking photos of things that have been there forever, but I’ve finally seen it — the nature of what we’re a part of.

"I can’t stop taking pictures, I take photos all the time. My images are more contemplative, more about the harmony of things around me. I see things in the way many others don’t — lines, shapes, abstracts ..."

Once Arnold has worked out his composition and taken the photo he uploads it to Photoshop and strips the image of all colour before he begins "painting". "The work is experimental. When I start I don’t know if it’s going to work, I don’t know if I’ve got the symmetry and the balance, so I strip everything out. The next choice is the colours. I begin working the image in different colours. I might get halfway through and realise it’s not going to work, so I have to take out all the colours and start again.

He adds: "You can’t have perfect harmony if you are out of sync with nature. But how do you capture serenity of spirit in a way that gives people that feeling [of peace experienced in nature]. What I’m trying to do is give people that feeling. It’s a way of expressing my spirituality, you can’t be at odds with nature and at peace with yourself. This work has helped me to understand that better."

So, if you find yourself mesmerised by one of Arnold’s works and wondering what it all means, it’s good to remember the teaching of Lao-Tzu in the Tao Te Ching: "Let go of all your assumptions and the world will make perfect sense."