Kororoit Escarpment

Panel 1 – Big Bang

In the beginning was the word “Bang”. The conventional view of the beginning of the universe is the “Big Bang” model. In this model, the universe exploded into being some 13.8 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is a “light echo” of the Big Bang and is observable in every direction. About 20% of radio static is made up of this radiation. For some time after the explosion the universe existed as a super-hot ball of hydrogen plasma, which eventually condensed into matter, and eventually into stars, galaxies and you and me.

Other theories about the origin of the universe include the “Steady State” model, I which matter is being continuously created. Because of the abstract, multi-dimensional nature of the Big Bang, a decision to represent it in a “Pop Art” style, reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein.

  

Panel 2 – Hubble

This panel is mostly a representation of the Hubble Telescope’s Deep Field View. The telescope is in space orbiting planet Earth and is able to see great distances as its view is unencumbered by the Earth’s atmosphere. This view is a very long exposure of a very small and unremarkable section of the sky in the constellation Fornax. The resulting image looks back through time to the very early universe when stars and galaxies were forming. The red/orange blob on the left is a depiction of GRB 20110526, which is the gamma radiation burst emitted by an exploding star and is the oldest object ever seen at 13.6 billion years old. The nebulae in this panel are purely decorative. However, there are many nebulae to be seen and studied and they are perhaps the most visually stunning astronomical objects we can see.

Panel 3 – Sun

The Sun: the ultimate source of all energy and life on Earth. The power-house of the solar system and a yellow star around 5 billion years old. Seen here emitting a solar flare.

In order for the Sun and Planets to exist at all, it is necessary that there was a huge mass of gas and rubble from some previous stars that exploded and eventually condensed into the solar system that we know today. 

Panel 4 – Newton

The story goes that Isaac Newton, already a famous mathematician, fled London to escape the plague and went to live at his family’s house in Yorkshire. While sitting in the garden, an apple fell on his head and inspired him to formulate the law of gravity. This remarkable fellow was responsible for the laws of motion, calculus, and a great deal of the study of optics. His studies of alchemy assisted in the early study of chemistry and it is also rumoured that he invented the cat-flap!

Panel 5 – Solar System

The Solar System is where we live. All of the planets are represented here in their relative sizes. The rocky ones (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) are quite small in comparison to the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). I have included Pluto (and its companions Charon, Nix and Hydra) despite it being downgraded to a Kuiper belt object. 

The farthest from Earth that Humans have travelled is via the Voyager space probes. At the time of writing Voyager 1 has finally escaped the influence of the Sun after travelling for some 30+ years, visiting the outer planets on the way.

The furthest that Humans have gone physically is to the Moon. The Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s will not be surpassed until an attempt is made to go to Mars.

The International Space Station is the current focus of space exploration, along with more space telescopes and probes to planets, asteroids and comets.

Panel 6 – Clouds

The boundary between Earth and Space is the Atmosphere. Here I have depicted many different sorts of clouds. Cumulo- Nimbus, Cirrus, Stratos, Cumulo-stratos, etc. I have also included some volcanic activity, and the landscape, loosely based on Cezanne’s Mt St Victoire pictures, also includes geomorphological features of coastlines and sedimentary rocks. In fact, there are several boundaries depicted here: Space, Atmosphere, Sea, Earth and Mantle.

Panel 7 – Pythagoras

The foundations of science can be found in the ancient world, and in many ways the ancient Greek philosophers were the pinnacle of their time. Pythagoras is a classic example of a Classical philosopher. Despite some unorthodox views on the nature of beans, he is best remembered for his formulation of the theory of right-angled triangles.

He was also responsible for the foundations of Music Theory. His study of the harmonic series enabled instruments to be tuned and music to be made. Called the Music of the Spheres, it was believed that the heavenly bodies moved in accordance with the theory of music and that music itself was a gateway to the fundamental structure of the universe; a belief that persists to this day. 

Panel 8 – Perspective

In renaissance Europe, art discovered the laws of geometric perspective, which allowed for the realistic depiction of objects in space from a single viewpoint. Prior to this art had relied on the eye of the artist. That perspective and the use of lenses and mirrors happened at the same time is probably no accident. What is interesting about the use of single viewpoint perspective is that it ultimately doesn’t work. This panel is perspective pushed to its extremes and the chequered floor appears to curve. As a precursor to Einstein, space does curve. The painting of chequered floors was particularly popular with the Northern European artists (the “Dutch Interior”), as in the works of Vermeer.

Panel 9 – Spiral

There are some mathematical relationships that are so abundant in nature that we have to assume that they are fundamental to the structure of the universe. Represented here are some of these relationships and some of their manifestations in nature. They are: Φ (phi), or the Golden Mean, The Platonic Solids, and the Fibonacci Series (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21…). Φ (phi), or the Golden Mean, is closely allied to the Fibonacci Series. Φ expresses the relationship of proportion. Given a line of length “1” divided at a point “x”, then 1:1-x = 1-x:x. Φ is approx .618 and if you divide 2 adjacent Fibonacci numbers it approaches Φ (i.e. 8/13). This relationship can be expressed as a spiral, rectangle and circle. The “flower” in the top right of this panel, is made of 8 golden spirals going one way, and 13 going the other. This pattern can be found in flowers and pinecones. The Platonic Solids can be found in crystal structures, and a curious plankton called Icosahedria Circagonia.

Other natural creatures with geometric forms shown here are: starfish, seahorse and snail.

There is also a snowflake and the wavy shape is an electron density contour map of the anthacene molecule C14H10. The fourteen carbon atoms lie on a single plane.

Panel 10 – Darwin

Charles Darwin is remembered for the Theory of Evolution, laid out in his famous book “The Origin of Species”. He travelled around the world aboard the ship “Beagle” and spent some time in the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. The unusual fauna and the marked difference between similar animals on different islands led him to speculate on the origin of species. Darwin is shown in this panel copied from an old photo, placed with the Galapagos Is and HMS Beagle in the background. On his head and arm are 2 finches with unusual beaks. Finches were central to his speculation, and these are copied from illustrations by Gould (famous ornithologist) of Darwin’s actual specimens. Interestingly, many of Gould’s bird drawings were actually done by Edward Lear of “The Owl and the Pussycat” fame. The half panel on the right shows the division of cells (mytosis), Blue-green Algae (one of the oldest life-forms), plant cells, and the geometric object is a representation of the structure of the DNA molecule (2 pentagons connected by 2 hexagons, rotating every 36°)

Panel 11 – Plants

The story of life on Earth begins with plants. This panel shows a variety of local indigenous plants: the Sunshine Orchid, Ptilotus, Showy Podolepis, Pink Bindweed, Lemon Beautyheads, Eucalyptus and Daisies. The importance of insects for the pollination of plants is illustrated by the bees. The structure of the beehive is another example of the geometric structures that appear in nature, and various grains of pollen are shown in magnification. These particular pollen are mesozoic Gondwanaland species. The half-panel on the right is a depiction of “All Plants” copied from the German Philosopher Goethe.

Panel 12 – Fossils

Given the huge range of time that constitutes the Earth’s history, most of the study of life on Earth is the study of fossils. On this panel are illustrated some famous fossil finds. Firstly, Let’s roughly establish a few important dates:

Age of the Earth/Solar System4.5 BYA

First signs of life (Bacteria/Stromatolites)3.5 BYA

For a long time not much happened.

First Multicellular Creatures (pre-Cambrian)700 MYA

Explosion of life (Cambrian)600 MYA

Life moves to land (Silurian)450 MYA

Fish (Devonian)400 MYA

Dinosaurs 250 MYA

Birds  60 MYA

Mammals  50 MYA

Humans    2 MYA

The panel, anti-clockwise from top left;

Stromatolites are still extant in Shark Bay WADicksonia, Flat Worm from Ediacara formation in SA, Pre-Cambrian

Hallucigenia, Canadia, Wiwaxia, and an unknown arthropod, from Burgess Shale formation in Canada, Cambrian

Trilobite, Morroco is the place for trilobites, Cambrian to Permian.

Archaeopteryx, The transition from Dinosaur to Bird, Solnhofen Limestone Formation, late Jurassic (150 mya)

Eastmanosteus, Devonian Fish, or Gogo Fish, Kimberly WA

Baragwanathia, Oldest Gondwanaland Plant 

The thread of DNA runs through it all- i.e we are all connected!

Panel 13 – Humans

The central image in this panel is of a fossil- Australopithicus Africanus, a human ancestor, and the earliest known to walk upright. 

The double helix of DNA has been refered to as “the Serpent in the Garden of Eden”. Therefore, It seemed appropriate to use Michaelangelo’s Adam and Eve picture from the Sistine Chapel ceiling and join the Serpent onto the DNA thread. Below is a view of Olduvia Gorge in East Africa: the realm of Australopithicus Africanus, and, in some sense, the real Garden of Eden and cradle of Humanity. On the left we have a representation of the reproductive process at the cellular level, and the decorative element is a web of neurons. 

Panel 14 – Einstein

At the beginning of the 20th century, much of what was assumed to be known was being turned on its head. One of the biggest upheavals was caused by Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity. The story goes that he was sitting on the tram, looking at the clock tower when he asked the question, “What would happen if this tram was travelling at the speed of light?” From this question arose, firstly, Special Relativity, which deals with travel at high speeds. And, secondly, General Relativity, which deals with Gravity. Relativity completely changed the way that the universe was perceived, and had wide-ranging ramifications across many fields, scientific and social. The unsung hero of Relativity is his wife, Maleeva, who did the maths for the theory.

The use of a Cubist style to represent Einstien and Relativity is for a number of reasons. Firstly, Cubism and Relativity both happened at the same time, and, secondly, they are about the same thing. Some parallels are: the abandonment of an absolute viewpoint (cf Perspective), and the inclusion of time as a dimension.

The object on the right hand side is a “Twistor”. Proposed by mathematician Roger Penrose, a “Twistor” is a multi-dimensional representation of a point in space.

Panel 15 – Fusion

This panel shows the nuclear reaction that happens inside the sun, and stars in general. Moving clockwise from top left, we have 2 hydrogen atoms fusing to become 1 heavy hydrogen atom, releasing a positron and a lot of energy. This heavy hydrogen fuses with another hydrogen atom to produce a “light” helium atom. Two “light” heliums fuse to become regular helium, releasing a lot of energy and 2 hydrogen atoms, and so the process continues. As this is a fairly violent process, it has been painted in a thick impasto with a palette knife to give it a rough textured quality and to express the huge forces involved.

Panel 16 – Atomic

Into the world of the very small: radiation, X-rays, atomic bombs, sub-atomic particles, electronics. As humans we inhabit a part of the universe between the very big and the very small. Our modern human world is powered by electricity, and there is much research into the sub-atomic world, as we have recently seen by the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, which gives things mass. The computer circuit-board depicted here has a hint of a human face in it. 

Acknowledgements:

There are, of course, many people who have contributed to making this mural possible.

St Albans SC – There are not many schools around that are enlightened and progressive enough to not only commission original art works, but to also give the artist free rein to do their thing.

In particular, 

• The Funding Body

• Nicholas D’Aglas and Marion Mortimer, for management, discussion and enthusiasm.

• The entire science department for their input.

• Lynne Borle, science co-ordinator for her support.

• Jim Borle for the fastening system.

• Brian Davies from Cavalier Art Supplies for the materials.

• Brimbank City Council Arts and Culture Dept. In particular Toni Burton.  They provided the Keilor Art Shed where the mural was painted.

Technical notes:

This work of art is just under 20m long, just under 1m high, and painted in oil paint on 64 smaller panels 60cm x 45cm. The panels are made of hardboard mounted on a frame. The smaller panels have been joined together in groups of 4. It is these groups of 4 that are referred to as “panels” below. The reasons for the mural being constructed this way are:

• The wall that the mural occupies is 3m off the ground, which would require scaffolding to paint directly onto the wall.

• The building is a “high-use” area, which would make the painting of the mural on site difficult.

• Painting off-site means that oil paint could be used, which is a better medium for colour, workability and durability. Unfortunately, it is also smelly and slightly toxic and would have posed OH&S questions if used in the presence of students and staff.

  

Once the method had been decided upon the materials were purchased and preparation begun. As mentioned previously 64 boards, paint, brushes, gesso, linseed oil and pure turpentine. Each board had to receive 16 nails and 3 coats of gesso. The boards had to be joined into groups of 4 so that it would be conceptually possible to paint the pictures. In some ways, the mural is 16 different pictures; some of which connect, and some of which don’t. 

© 2009 Robert Jackson

Robert Jackson

CV