The Millennium Magnum Opus
ULTRAMETAMORPHICA SUPERCYBERSYNTHESIS 1999-2001
Written by James Elliott
5000 words approx 30 minutes reading
I mention my intent to continue not without reason, as I have long since achieved my artistic ambitions. From my humble beginnings as a keen snapshotter, I have travelled fast and far. There have been many milestones on this journey, but in the interests of coherency, I shall mention but the relevant few.
Towards the final years at school, I felt lost. All the other kids knew what they were going to do when they left and I didn't. This gave me a feint feeling of nervousness and fear. When they mentioned their chosen vocation I would stare at them and think "How do you know that?" Of course, looking back now, I understand that I was simply making a bigger deal out of this decision than the other kids. They didn't know anything, they were just casually making choices.
I was an excellent student. I survived education with my talents still intact.
I was sat writing something in a book at the time, with all my work associates. Furtively, I started glancing around at all the other people around me. I silently closed the book and without even saying a word to anyone, not even the guy I was working with, got up, walked out and never went back. They're probably still wondering where I am.
Thoughts stormed my mind. Strange system we have, I reflected, that educates us so well, but pays such scant regard to what we do with all that education. Eleven years of intense enlightenment but complete indifference as to purpose! Everywhere in normality we find madness, of course. But to treat something as important as a human life so flippantly, beggars belief. So I would pause to ponder. And ponder I did for many months, much to the protestations of all and sundry. I would sit and think. Walk and think. Lie down in the park and stare at the sky, and think.
By sheer coincidence, six months later, I started going out with the girl who had walked by the window that day. She was a local glamour queen and drop dead gorgeous. Inspiration if ever there was. So of course I would take tons of snaps of her. One day she said to me "A girlfriend of mine wants you to take some photographs of her, for a model agency." I was astonished. "Don't be absurd!" I laughed "My camera only cost a fiver!" Suddenly I noticed she had a face as serious as stone and she countered "But your pictures are great and they are different!" I nonchalantly dismissed this. I had heard it before from my friends and thought they were just being nice. However, I would come to realise that my girlfriend was being sincere.
Teenage angst creates some wonderful things I am sure. And some awful disasters. Sometimes both together. So it was with me. Opportunity often comes skulking around cloaked in disaster. Few people see it. If truth were told, they are blinded by the swirling mists of their own self pity. Oh I was no different, and it took a while for the mists to clear. But clear they did and eventually I remember thinking "Where do I go from here?".
No girlfriend, no job. Where? So I was thinking in overdrive, I mean, for like months. I eventually decided that whatever the odds or consequences, that I was either going to be a lead guitarist in a rock band, or a photographer. Everyone thought I was mad. I didn't care. So that was undoubtedly the first milestone in my life. Or the first cross-roads, perhaps.
Many more milestones occurred on this journey. In 1972 I realised that I had been born synchronised with the dawning of a new art form, which really had not been used creatively. I can still picture exactly where I was standing in my studio, in Buckfastleigh, when I discovered this. I can also still remember precisely where I was sat 12 years later, in my London apartment, when I realised I had created extraordinary work. Very few artists have any objective cognisance of their talent, early on.
I can also remember exactly where I was sat, yet another 12 years later in 1996, when I started to realise that I had achieved my artistic ambitions. As a young man, I wanted to be an artist of the calibre of Dali and later, Renoir. I originally dismissed Renoir as "chocolate box". I was quite wrong. Much later as I evolved creatively, I realised that there is a great deal to be said for keeping art beautiful and few have done that as well as Renoir. Few are capable of such beauty, nowadays.
My work was not influenced much by either of these artists. Certainly no more than they were influenced by other artists. But rather they inspired me. I simply saw them as men of quality. I saw something of myself in that. They had standards!! Something of an expletive these days. Their personalities, however, are foreign to me and I have no wish to emulate them. My creative approach is also very different.
So anyway, the point of this, is that by 1996, I was happy to have my work held up for comparison with any artist living or dead. Quite a claim really, but one I could say hand on heart and with a clear conscience. I had done what I set out to do as a teenager and done it in a highly original way - in new media. As time wore on after this point, I only became more and more convinced of this view. I had gone way beyond anything I anticipated. I was genuinely amazed to have achieved this at the age of 45. I thought it would be decades later, if ever at all.
There's a great irony in Life, that you often achieve the greatest things whilst focusing on something else or not really trying. You can try too hard. You can try too little. The lesson here is that you must be interacting. Reaching for something.
I don't think it is coincidence that since I have relaxed in the knowledge that I have created the work I set out to do - my creativity has turned upwards and shot straight through the stratosphere. I create now with such facility that I astonish myself. Sometimes I stare at my masterpieces and wonder who did them. I know it's me intellectually, of course. I'm not that mad. And also, I am cognisant of the simple fact that it is not the number of hours spent on a masterpiece which is significant. If I do something in two hours nowadays - it's not really two hours - it's 35 years and two hours. It's the degree of experience and evolved talent you can bring to bear on something.
So calls for blood from the populace notwithstanding, I love to tell people that 'Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis' only took me 7 hours to create. It is a source of great mirth to people when I tell them the title took 8 hours. I got stuck on the title. I just couldn't get the euphony right. Strictly speaking though, my masterpiece didn't take 7 hours. It took endless hours of study and experiment and THEN seven hours.
I don't know how many hours it took, because I wasn't counting in the way that I used to. Like sketching, this is just a formality I have dispensed with over the years. The other reason I wasn't counting, is that I never really believed I was going to pull it off.
If you want blood and an auto-crucifixion, then buy Metasphere, which took 332 hours of blood, sweat and tears to create. Or better yet, Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis, which took 407 hours of work.
So seven hours or hundreds? I guess it depends on what you count. I had encountered many frustrating disasters on the way. I suppose in real terms it took hundreds of hours like the others, but until 30th April 2001, I could not have said for sure, that I was ever going to create it. I suppose the same could be said of 'Metasphere' and 'Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis', both of which almost didn't happen.
The masterpiece evolved in a very strange way. From the point I got on track and realised I would pull it off, it all happened very fast. But then again Metasphere and indeed, Superchromatic were both the same! With 'Metasphere' I was about two months into it, with about 200 hours of work behind me, when I lost faith for a bit. The picture had made me physically ill twice due to the dust created by excessive sanding and filing. I wore smog masks, but even that could not keep it from my throat. I really felt for a moment that this creation was beyond my capabilities. The only thing that pushed me forwards with Metasphere, was that I didn't want to throw away 2 months of my life.
With 'Superchromatic' I was three months into it and the picture was still in chaos, after 300 hours of intense work. This can been seen from the extensive documentation surrounding the piece. Then I suddenly pulled it all together at incredible speed - just!
What was very different about 'Meta' and 'Super', is that with those two masterpieces, I had I fundamental belief from square one, that I would complete them. Moments of doubt, notwithstanding. With Ultrametamorphica this just wasn't so. I was a few squares from the end before I believed I would pull it off. Vital difference. Eighteen months on, the penultimate image I was working on was absolute rubbish. Further away from where I wanted to go than a hundred stages before! The time scale with 'Ultra' was also even more protracted than the former two. It probably took slightly less long in terms of working hours, though.
Anyway, the strange evolution. In April 1999, I had created this image called "The Four Crosses". It was truly, drastically awful. I would gaze at it and wonder just how a man of my talents could have created such crap. Creating is very much like opening Christmas presents. It's always kind of nice, but sometimes you feel let down and at other times amazed. Sometimes you get the brown socks and othertimes the Ferrari. This was the mother of brown socks. Oh it would never have seen the light of day and I'd have trashed it months earlier, had it not taken me so much time. I wondered if there was anything I could do with it.
So one day in November 1999, out of desperation as much as anything else, I started messing about with it on computer. It was the usual endless succession of disasters and then all of a sudden..... Bang! I had something. I looked at it and thought "I'm on to something here......" It looks like some kind of Universe or tiny subatomic structure about to explode or disintegrate. So I called it "Hyperfragmenta". It looked nothing like the final masterpiece, but I liked this image very much and I created variations of it. Of course, at that time we were approaching the Millennium and everyone was talking about it. Very much the mainstay of the media. So I evolved the idea of creating a Millennium Masterpiece.
"Hyperfragmenta," reminded me of the central polychromatic circle in "Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis", so I decided it would be the central focal point of my masterpiece. A great image within an image. I originally sketched my idea, just like I did way back when. Perhaps I should have known in the moment that I did, I was obviously on the wrong track. I hadn't made sketches for years. But that simple observation escaped me at the time.
I did a lot of research to make my original idea work, but as time wore on, it became more and more apparent, that although the idea was more evolved and complex - I would essentially be creating 'Metasphere Mark II with Superchromatic in the Middle'. This idea did not appeal to me. My art is about innovation. I wanted something new. And so I turned to new technology.
I have a heightened seventh sense which can feel the brilliance emerging in something, long before it is visible. Unfortunately, until you reach this point, it is hard to know whether you have wandered completely up the wrong alley, creatively speaking. This certainly happened with "Ultrametamorphica". I tried at least 84 attempts using 3D software, which were all completely off the mark. Interesting, perhaps, but completely devoid of the feeling I was searching for - the energy behind the formation of physical matter and it's subsequent disintegration.
In April 2001, it was starting to annoy me that I hadn't made any real progress on the masterpiece at all. Two years and still no solutions. Whenever this occurs in life I take a radical review of what I am doing. I separate myself out and view my actions from a distance. As if I were an observer. And I analyse thought patterns, because something must be stopping me.
I immediately identified what it was. I am now more advanced in years and life is too short to spend hundreds of hours on a masterpiece. I had searched for many solutions, but even with 3D software, it rapidly became obvious that it would be no quicker than physically creating the thing. Spending months climbing the learning curve of millennium 3D programs would be counter-productive. These programs are not difficult, they are just complex and time-consuming to learn.
So not surprisingly, a new computer program allowing instantaneous three-dimensional modelling, caught my attention. I bought it immediately and used it immediately. I love immediacy. Nothing in this world moves fast enough for me. Whenever someone says to me "Next week, next month, next year....", I always think: "This person does not speak my language." So later that evening I am trying out my new software. In minutes I had a result. Not a masterpiece, but a result. A hint of distant possibilities. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined that two days later my masterpiece would be almost finished.
When I first saw Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis appear on screen I was astonished beyond belief. It was a massive leap forward from the previous stage I was working on. As if Destiny just threw it to me. I went from D to Y in one hit. Was that luck? Depends. As I said at the outset, it is important that you reach for something. You could argue that this was luck, but I have also failed n times whilst attempting to create images on computer. You didn't see that part. No-one does. What are you going to call that? Bad luck? Really it's all just cause and effect and it balances out. Many things come in under expectation. Occasionally, wildly over. Mastery is about learning to load the dice of chance in your favour. But chance there always is. I simply work with it these days, rather than against it. That's why I no longer stick rigidly to an idea or make sketches.
For decades I heard the argument
"A camera for the monkey who first said that."
It simply isn't true. You will get some photographs better than others, yes! But masterpieces, no! And anyway the monkey doesn't even know which are the best ones.
In the Sixties and Seventies, many predictions were made about the 'space-age domes' we would all live in by the year 2000 and the colonisation of the moon. But save for a few amenities, the average house is still more or less the same. Houses may be built with greater facility but very few architects are 'doing it better'. And axiomatically, we are not living on the moon.
Many argue that the facility with which we now create has in fact lowered standards in music, photography and so on. This seems unlikely to me. I still find things to love everywhere in cutting-edge culture. As I said, progress is a human thing and not a technological one. The simplest way to explain this, is to point out that if something is easier to do, it simply enables people to more lazily achieve the same thing. It does not guarantee superior results.
Technology is a by-product of a human desire to avoid pain and gain pleasure. Driving a car any distance is faster and easier than walking, but the result is the same. The facility however, enables us to attempt more and go further, given the same enthusiasm. This however does not guarantee we end up anywhere better, but it certainly enables greater possibilities to explore. And if this is done in sufficient degree, then we may very likely end up somewhere better. Certainly this has been the case with my experience of computers and digital imaging. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind, that the imagery I have created in the last seven years has been my most original, innovative and creative.
So anyway, I almost had my masterpiece, but as always with computers, they take a flying leap in the right direction, on the basis of the command you gave it, but also invariably screw up a lot of things on the way. So you have to go back over the work, again and again, to perfect it. So it took a lot of fine tuning to get it from Y to Z. But from the point I saw the creation take its final overall form, I knew I had something incredible. I immediately called to screen "Metasphere" and "Superchromatic" for comparison. Interesting, in retrospect that I should do that. For days I stared at the three images, asking myself over and over, which one was best. In the end I gave up. When you get to that quality level in life it's like saying, "Which is best? A Ferarri or a Rolls Royce?" It's a rhetorical question to which there is no answer. If you mentally answered the question as you read it, you simply expressed who you are, but you did not answer the question. For there is no answer. It just depends what you want. And which criteria you use. Which as I said, expresses something about yourself, but it does not express anything much about the cars. Quality speaks for itself, the rest is subjective response.
With art and artists it is the same. I create extraordinary work. So does Dali, Renoir.... whoever.... some obscure artist from Wolverhampton ....it doesn't matter. If it is work of great stature it will always have an audience. You can like one or the other, but this is only a statement of personal preference. You simply can't say one is better than the other, when you get up to a certain quality level. If you state a preference for something which is patently crappy, then that expresses not only personal preference, but also lack of critical ability and standards.
"I'm entitled to my opinion", they all lip-synch.
Some are, some aren't. Truth to tell.
Others say "That is a matter of opinion." Another cliché.
Yes it is, but it is not just opinion.
Plumbers have opinions on brain surgery, I have no doubt.
Cab drivers on Formula 1.
And everyone knows what's wrong with the government, but when asked how to improve it - nobody knows. You catch my drift. Opinion is as common as dust and usually about as useful. So anyway, I couldn't choose between my new creation, 'Metasphere' and 'Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis'. They were of equal calibre.
"Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis" is fundamentally about the balancing cycle of creation and destruction in a cosmological, atomic and metaphysical sense. I am still very much in awe of the world, inner space, outer space. The beauty and complexity, even in the simplest of things, is truly staggering. So far over my head and beyond my capabilities for comprehension, that my own creative powers, seem like insignificant whispers lost on the wind of a raging storm.
At 21, I thought I knew a lot, but only a fool thinks he knows everything. Decades later I know very little. Knowledge inverts itself as increasing enlightenment allows a higher degree of questioning. What we don't know therefore, always remains greater than that which we do. Perception and enlightenment increase, however. You see the world in a different way, but that is quite another matter entirely. You can actually know too much. Too little, too much. It's all the same. Both are an imbalance. But who decides how much?
"You can't get too much of a good thing." Lip-synched cliché no 49.
That is not so, for the imbalance of excess renders the amazing normal and then dull. When surfeit is taken far enough, desire will eventually sicken, and so die. The laws of Nature, The Gods, The Universe - what you will - are absolutely dependable and self-balancing. Except perhaps, that the dependability balances occasionally with the reverse. The supreme order has a fractional balancing equation of chaos, or so it seems. And out of this, very likely, comes creativity.
So within the microcosm of my life, within this vast array of galaxies, "Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis" was created mostly by design, but with a balancing element of chance. That is how I perceive human life and all true creativity seems to be this way. And it is precisely for this reason, I no longer work to a sketch. I simply pursue creativity and supreme order, whilst keeping a careful eye on the chaos which is occurring. Often the chaos creates superior order. I don't question this. I simply absorb it into the creative process.
'Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis' is a complex synthesis of a zillion thoughts synergistically working together. The concept of outer space and inner space undergoing spontaneous creation and disintegration in a polymorphic, womb-like, morphological structure. The bright energy highlights in the picture resemble the surge of energy which usually precedes the physical metamorphosis of creation and destruction. The cycle of energy becoming liquid as the energy level drops and the liquid ultimately becoming solid, combined with the disintegration of fragmenting forms. The metamorphosis of the visible into the invisible and vice versa.
Invisible space, explosion, molten lava, rock.
Ice, water, steam, invisible air.
Interesting, isn't it, that the most powerful things are invisible.
Speaking of cycles and fragmentation, that brings me more or less full circle back to where I began, with "Hyperfragmenta". Ironically, this image was never used. I may use it someday though, as I do fundamentally like that image, very much. My sketch wasn't used either. The function of the sketch and all the countless intermediate images, was that they focused my mind and set me on a path. They made me journey. As I said, the important thing is to reach for something.
It had been a long, long haul arriving at my masterpiece. Indeed I even had to use four different software programs to complete the image. Technically, it was hugely complex to create. People are always banging on about creativity, these days. "Art is all about ideas." they proclaim, as if disclosing a heretofore unknown pearl of wisdom. The axiomatic is always tiresome on the ear. 'Pub wisdom', as I call it, even worse. What seems to have escaped people these days is that art is also about technique. Very much about the execution.
Most 20th century visual art is technically inept and it is the poorer for it. Like a mad pianist passionately banging his piano, which just happens to be completely out of tune. The intention is there, the message is there, but slaughtered in translation. And this is, even now, the fate of much contemporary art. All ideology and no accomplishment. I mean, does anybody really care what the idea is, if the actual work of art looks like a pile of junk?! I don't. I fail to see why a work of art can't be gorgeous, exciting and technically brilliant, as well as expressing something significant. Substance gets lost in the chaos of ugly art. Meaning can easily be overshadowed by shoddy technique.
With me it is different, I actually love technique and I like art to be gorgeous. I am sure this is how it all began and is definitely how it was all meant to be. Art without beauty is like music without harmony. And with me at least, shoddy technique strikes a nasty discord. Don't read this wrong, my love of technique is a small thing compared to my love of creativity, but at least I understand the importance of technique.
My work is like Champagne, you can't rush it. This holds true whether one is creating it, or experiencing it. Only a Philistine would gulp down Champagne or glance at my work. As is now well known, I hold my work back for a while before releasing it. This innovative concept enables me to let my art "mature". Six months or a year is perfect. I can come back to the image fresh and this gives me far greater capacity, for critical judgement and subsequent improvement.
When caught up in the excitement of creation, it is extremely hard indeed, to separate yourself from your own subjectivity. I would argue that this is never entirely possible. Nor should it be. But one thing is lucidly clear. When the elation of discovery subsides and you are left to critically analyse your endeavours in the cold light of day, it is a much easier to make an accurate analysis and judgement.
As I write this, a year after creating "Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis", I love it even more. Many whom I respect, have said that it is my greatest work. For someone who had already achieved his artistic ambitions, this is not just icing on the cake - it's candles as well. Certainly it represents the greatest art of which I am capable. All my talents and powers, in the current state of their evolution, brought into a laser-like focus on a very fine day, with the wind in the right direction and the Gods on my side. To have gone down such a long and winding road to get there, and then created it with such facility - I could not, would not, ask for more.
Written by James Elliott
© JAMES ELLIOTT 2002