Fluidism:  A Painting Technique and Kindred Cosmology


 Robert Kernodle



As an artist, I have come to realize a parallel between my latest style of painting and a style of thinking happening at the fringes of science.  “Fluidism” denotes the particular painting style, while “superfluid model of space” denotes the particular thinking style.  The superfluid model of space seems to be a perfect conceptual partner for fluidism, further defining and grounding this painting style within a new world view.


Given advancing technology’s effect on the very concept of art, and given a history of painting that some thinkers say has exhausted the medium, another article about painting might seem antiquated before it hits the page.  On the other hand, consider human biological structure related to its fundamental fluid nature, over a time span where this biological structure has not changed considerably.  Then painting (as expression of fluid being) appears to be too basic to eradicate.  Even more, painting as an art form seems persistent in new contexts, which contexts themselves reorient and refurbish it in what some might call a transhumanist world.1





Imagine manipulating very shallow pools of colored liquid paint.  Place these colored pools on a flat rigid surface, then move the surface by tilting, shaking, tapping, or using a combination of these actions.  Experiment with the pools on thought-out backgrounds, or let everything happen at once.  Also propel colored liquid through the air, and (when motivated) add formal shapes later.  The only guiding rule is to discover what feels interesting, beautiful or pleasing, knowing already that designs are predetermined in the molecules, geometry and mechanics of fluid flow.


This is “fluidism”—an intense and exciting physical process that produces a particular style of painting.  Fluidism is on-the-edge creativity where reality is born unexpectedly.  Calculation cooperates with chance.  Wild and refined actions unite.  Chaos and control combine into unpredictable, one-of-a-kind compositions.



Action Painting


Readers might compare fluidism to the painting style of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), 20th century American painter who epitomizes the Action Painting school of the 1940’s and 1960”s.2  Fluidism, however, does not aim to mimic, honor or aspire to any predefined idea of “action painting”.  Instead, fluidism has arisen of its own accord, on principles, motivations and circumstances originally not connected to this historical movement.  Further, one might venture, fluidism could better ground previous styles of this sort— it could serve as the broader philosophy.


Fluidism has a distinctive allegiance to a physics-oriented sense of fluid flow and turbulence.  Rather than appeal to abstract, emotional expressive states of the artist, it appeals to a fundamental dynamic of the universe.  This fundamental dynamic of universe then registers as emotion.  This dynamic exists in a greater cosmic ocean and comes into unique focus locally through fluidism painting compositions.


The sense here is more that universe finds expression through artist, rather than artist intentionally expressing his own impression of it.  In other words, the artist does not “own” his impression.  Rather, the dynamics of reality allow it unavoidably through a motion of medium reflecting the most primal creative principle of all.  Fluidism, thus, is a direct expression of the primal creative principle.  It is the primal principle’s “voice” via the artist.  The principle expresses itself.


Fluid paint, manipulated by the artist, reflects fluid nature manipulating itself into inevitable self-similar structures.  Think of it this way:  If fluid paint could last through eons of evolution, then the form of the artist himself would arise from it as an emergent complex structure.  In the mortal realm and chemical restraints of paint, however, the artist sees only a raw early stage of the process.  He sees the curious primitive patterns that are his precursors.  A blob that he sees eventually might lead to a cell.  A filament that he notices eventually might lead to a tail or leg or arm.  A vortex that he observes eventually might lead to a beating heart.  All these primitive structures (blob, filament, vortex) exist in fluid flow.  All these primitive structures exist and move within the highly liquid human body, now contained in their higher-organized arrangements and relationships.  A human body toying with fluid, thus, is a human body experimenting with the forms and forces of its own physical creation.



Mathematical Chaos


Pollock again seems like the most obvious famous painter in strong accord with this liquidity of physical existence.  His statement, “I am nature”, echoes a more profound truth than his contemporaries could have known at the time.3  In 2002, this truth came to light in a paper published by physicist Richard Taylor, along with Adam Micolich and David Jonas, where they announce:  “. . . it was not until 1999 that we, the current authors, identified the defining visual character of his [Pollock’s] patterns as fractal— bearing the ‘fingerprint’ of nature’s patterns”.4  Taylor’s and his colleagues’ findings scientifically demonstrate that a deep natural order can underlie abstract artistic creations.  Specifically, these authors unveil complex order in fluid behavior, which an artist need not understand mathematically to use.  Hidden order simply reverberates through the artist pre-cognitively and unavoidably by his tangible contact with the bare medium.  The order is “there” in the artist/medium relationship, waiting to be revealed, in other words.


Such has been the independent qualitative discovery in my fluidism style.  Emergent, aesthetically compelling patterns arise in the action of jostling thin liquid paint films.  Unlike Pollock, whose liquid assemblages relied primarily on trajectories of fluid falling (through the air) onto a flat background, I rely primarily on a flat pool within which collisions and trajectories are generated (inside the pool itself).  Whereas Pollock might be called a “drip painter”, I might be called a “pool painter”.  Whereas Pollock orchestrated his individual trajectories, I orchestrate the inner workings of a mass spill.  Sometimes, as mentioned previously, I further respond to these orchestrated spills by adding formal geometric elements at a later stage.  In a sense, it is the chaos that reveals a particular ground for complementary Euclidian control.


Generally, the knowledge of fractal geometry can be applied to fluid flow.  As one source states:  “Most physicists who study chaos do so with carefully controlled laboratory setups of turbulent fluid flow . . . . Mathematical physics has a particular interest in nonlinear fractals”.5   Here I should make a distinction between pristine fractals generated by computers and natural fractals found in the everyday world.  The latter are described as “randomly scale symmetric” as opposed to “exactly scale symmetric”.  Furthermore, it is the randomly scale symmetric variety that I claim manifest in my compositions.


Since I am a visual artist, however, I do not observe my fluid manipulations through rigorous mathematical formalism.  Instead, I respond innately (as did Pollock) to the embedded geometry that such formalism might reveal, in fact.  I stress again that an appeal to abstract emotionalism is not the justification for my art.  My appeal is to the inherent order, predetermined in the physical substrate of fluids.  Emotional response to these emergent patterns is a primitive mathematical awareness of extremely complex order.  Stated bluntly, emotion does the math before logic.



Liquidity In History


Some readers might compare fluidism to various marbling techniques.  Marbling, of course, involves floating pigment on water and lifting off the random patterns with a sheet of paper.  Fluidism, however, skips the paper transfer.  Instead, it preserves actual original fluid structure, undisturbed in the least by marbling's blotting procedure.  Furthermore, fluidism hails as more than a decorative painting technique.  It brings to light why human beings are  fascinated with such a practice, to begin with.


The origin of marbling goes back to China, over 2000 years ago, where it appears in sacred practices of Shinto priests.6  Priests dripped ink on calm water, transferred resulting concentric-circle patterns to rice paper, inscribed this with prayers, presented it to an emperor who burned it in a ceremony, supposedly carrying the prayers throughout the universe.  Here there was a sense of the power of fluidity to move the cosmos.  In a similar sense, fluidism hearkens back to this sacredness by reconnecting flowing pigments to feelings about cosmological significance.


Marbling spread from its origin in China to Japan, where it was practiced in the 12th  century as “suminagashi” (floating ink).  The Western tradition of paper marbling was discovered independently in the old Ottoman Empire during the 15th century.  Called “Turkish marbling” or “ebru” (cloud art), it resembled suminagashi except in its use of oil-based pigments and chemically conditioned water [compare to water-based sumi ink used on plain water in suminagashi].  By the beginning of the 20th century, marbling became almost a lost art.  Recently, though, it has experienced a revival of interest among artists and craftspeople.7


Until now, my personal interest in the art of flowing paint has developed independently of this knowledge.  I am pleased, no less, to find myself in the company of such notable predecessors.  The fascination for flowing colors in the arts, which spans various centuries and cultures (subsiding and reappearing in different guises) speaks to a profound world view, or to the possibility thereof.  My venture is to help bring this world view to clear focus.


I sometimes subtitle my fluidism style “the art of fluid”, but I allow all previous similar styles under this description as well (from ancient Shinto priests to Jackson Pollock to others in the modern day).8   All these artists have a distinct common sensitivity to nature’s way.  If I echo Taoism here, then the reason is that Taoism’s chief metaphor also seems to be fluidity.9  Rather than focusing on any single spiritual philosophy, however, I consider the material upon which the spiritual seems to be modeled.  More precisely, I consider the material state serving as the strongest analogy for the spiritual condition.


Of the four ancient Greek elements (air, fire, water, earth), three are properly considered a fluid state, while the fourth is saturated with fluid.10  Thales (624-548 BC) saw water as the main element:  “. . . the fire of the sun and stars itself, and the whole cosmos, are nourished by the exhalations of water”.11  By contrast, Anaximenes (585-525 BC) favored air, while Heraclitus (544-483 BC) favored fire as the primal element of nature.  Go back even farther in history, and notice that in Egypt, Nun (a primordial ocean) gave rise to everything.  In Assyro-Babylonian myth, a fusion of salt water and sweet water was the source of all things.  Hebrew holy books also explain that all inhabitants of earth arose from a primitive sea.  Judeo-Christian creation stories likewise center on water.  Similarly, the Koran contains the words:  “We have created every living thing from water”.12  Generally speaking, water is a primordial element underlying creation myths and stories around the world.



Fluid Reality


All this seems less surprising, given that 70% of Earth’s surface consists of water,

60-65% of the human body consists of water; the elements hydrogen  and oxygen (first and third most abundant elements in the known universe) comprise water; water pervades every region of the atmosphere, and life as we know it is impossible without water.13  In short, tangible, understandable reality depends largely on water or a fluid state.  Little wonder, then, that such a sense of awe, respect or fascination should surround fluid dynamic behavior.  Little wonder too that art of liquid flow might allow for a most straightforward expression of fluid being.


Remembering now that modern mathematics has revealed extremely complex order in fluid dynamic behavior, we might fancy that science somehow can marry with spirituality or, at least, better explain why we humans experience such feelings of awe in our existence.  Perhaps such feelings of awe are a rough form of math— a precursor “calculation” that emotion performs before higher logic defines it.  Clearly, geometry seems to underlie our fascination with fluid flow patterns.  Or perhaps fascination is the truer measure of knowing, of which formal geometry is but a mere approximation.  Approached either way, fluid dynamic behavior seems preeminently fundamental to reality or to human perception of reality.14 


Nonetheless, Western science veered towards the solid bias of atomism— the doctrine that all things are composed of a smallest particle.  Even while important thinkers postulated the basic fluid nature of physical reality, other thinkers with a competing point of view made a strong case too.  Eventually, their thinking dominated over the fluid-view thinkers.15   In going this route, the dominant paradigm of modern science might have underplayed its rival.  Interestingly, just as the art of marbling was almost lost at the beginning of the 20th century, so too was the idea of a basic medium of reality.  By  “lost”, I mean lost from serious consideration.


Recently I have been impressed by the number of “fluid-biased” hypotheses available for reference on the internet.  Despite the strength of modern scientific particle-biased  views, there are disciplined thinkers within and on the fringes of respected science who continue to insist on the primacy of a fluid-dynamic paradigm.  As an artist whose instinctive leaning has been towards patterns formed in flowing liquids, I cannot help feeling an allegiance to such thinkers.  In view of the cross-cultural and historical sensitivity of humanity to liquidity in nature, and in view of the tangible, compositional, incontrovertible presence of liquidity in all human spheres, I cannot ignore such thinkers as mere cranks.  From a tiny accident in my kitchen sink, I have evolved a full-blown cosmological perspective that resonates unmistakably with these thinkers.



Neo-Fluid World View


The various proponents of fluid hypotheses agree that the nature of space and space itself is not a void or nothingness, but consists of fine energy-substance.16  Modern physical theories, by contrast, often have alluded to space as a fabric or more rigid substrate, if a substrate is acknowledged at all.17  Einstein’s general theory of relativity seems confusing in this respect, because it both seems to acknowledge space as a malleable thing and then forbids its being a ponderable medium.  Juan Calsiano discusses this at greater length in his paper, “A Case for a Fluid Space”.18  Calsiano notes Einstein’s original belief in a medium underlying all things, eventually abandoned in favor of a technically elegant (although causally confusing) mathematical formalism.  Quantum mechanics, science’s other great foundational pillar, defies causal understanding even more by taking a position that science’s place is not to posit what reality might be.  Calsiano, however, points out the captivating similarity between quantum mechanical and fluid dynamic equations.


Other individuals follow suit.  Barry Baily, in his “The Superfluid Model”, considers space-time and energy as two superfluids that do not mix.  According to his hypothesis:  “All physical properties emerge as scalar bubble interactions determined by surface tension”.19  Notice the uncanny similarity between Baily’s  two superfluids and the ancient Assyro-Babylonian twin waters.  On a more esoteric and mystical front, David Wilcock recalls an ancient twin aether theory, also bearing striking resemblance to Baily’s more modern mathematical treatment.20 


William Hamilton III, in his “The Flow of Gravity”, postulates:  “space is something that Einstein proposed, but not analogous to a rigid solid but similar to a fluid in properties, and thus certain laws that govern fluids are applicable to the behavior of space and produce the gravitational force”.21  Henry H. Lindner further supports this idea in his “Flowing Space over Relativity”.22  Pete Brown has compiled an impressive cross-disciplinary resource where he highlights additional individuals with a fluid dynamic focus, including:  Ross Tessien, Jeff Shifman, Barry C. Mingst, and Dr. Allen Rothwell.23 


Possibly the most impressive case for a fluid dynamic world-view is made by philosopher/artist Joel Morrison, who has developed an extensive website dedicated to a little-known, highly-developed theory by Gerald I. Lebau.24  Morrison further develops this physical theory using his expertise in the most modern metaphysics.  Briefly, he summarizes:


This theory is a purely causal, fluid-dynamic unified field foundational-level replacement for the current kinetic-atomic-theory-based model of physics.  It unifies the “fundamental forces of nature” through the concept of a continuous, ubiquitous, compressible, material fluid whose complex fluid-dynamic harmonically-stabilized “wave nature” actions form all tangible matter and energy.  In unifying the “fundamental forces of nature”, all of the mysteries of current physics are thus dissolved and explained by the foundation-level fluid-dynamic mechanisms of basic matter.25


Two additional thinkers deserve mention here, since they supply authoritative material linking the fractal structure of fluid flow to the fractal structure of the universe.  These individuals are:  geologist Robert L. Oldershaw, an independent researcher in the field of cosmology who for twenty-five years has worked on a model referred to as the Self-Similar Cosmological Paradigm,26  and theoretical physicist Anup Rej who has conceptualized, written a book and numerous articles about a model referred to a the Multifractal Universe.27  Oldershaw points out that modern astrophysicists portray themselves to general readers as bastions of confidence, whereas at the working level of specialists, critical issues are debated heatedly in professional journals.  As Morrison confirms, preference for a given model grows from a complicated relationship between approved evidence, peer review, research goals, funding politics, and the speed at which society’s infrastructure is able to shape around new information or perspectives.


Today the quantity and speed of information transfer is staggering.  Consequently, where to draw a line between legitimate and laughable theories admittedly seems difficult for non-specialists to determine.  A sufficient span of time, however, reveals a convergence of ideas from different areas and eras towards a singular direction.  In modern times, that direction has been towards finite solids in empty space or abstract mathematical spaces.  Undoubtedly, a competing preference is bubbling under this mainstream, and how ironic indeed that the word “mainstream” itself alludes to fluidity.


I count myself as another eddy of this undercurrent, since I find hope for greater shared understanding in Morrison’s philosophical enhancement of Lebau’s fluid-dynamic model.  Essentially, this works out to be an interleaving of seemingly separate ideas where no one idea stands as absolute.  Accordingly, liquidity reveals itself to be cells of varying solidity, which cells themselves resolve into even smaller liquid seas of still smaller varyingly-solid cells, and so on indefinitely.


Atoms stream together to become water molecules, which stream together to become water droplets, then clouds, raindrops, rivers, oceans, a planet.  Cosmic plasma streams together to become individual stars, which stream together to become star systems, galaxies, oceans of galaxies, so on indefinitely.  At critical points, human perception seems to end, but faith in what is perceivable leads us to believe that there is no end to this simple rule.  Universe is infinite and eternal, forever and forever now a vast unceasing flow.





Why should a visual artist concern himself with such things?  Why not merely make paintings and allow them their pristine viewing, uncluttered by so many presumptive words?  I would answer that a painting is always more than the eye’s view.  It has roots and tendrils into every other sensation.  It germinates from every other area of culture.  In a way, it floats on all these other areas.  Yes, a painting is like a water plant with a tangle of growth below the calm surface.  Usually best appreciated when left undisturbed, it occasionally can tolerate a more probing look at its undergrowth.  In this regard, I agree with  American Arts  publisher, James Cooper:  “A talent for creating beautiful shapes and colors is nothing in itself, if it is not wedded to a deeper purpose”.28






1.  Here the term “transhuman” describes a world where human beings exceed their current limits by means of bio-engineering,  by designing super-intelligent machines, and by enabling their own eventual extinction via technology-accelerated evolution.


2.  “Action Painting”, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_painting).


3.  Richard P. Taylor, Adam P. Micolich, David Jonas, “The Construction of Jackson Pollock’s Fractal Drip Paintings”, Leonardo, 2002, vol 36 issue 2, p 203-207.

Online summary available at Ivar Peterson, “Jackson Pollock’s Fractals”, Math Treck (http://www.maa.org/mathland/mathtrek_9_20_99.html).


4.  Fractals are a class of complex geometrical shapes that commonly exhibit the property of self-similarity, such that a small portion of it can be viewed as a reduced scale or replica of the whole.  They are capable of describing spatially uniform phenomena in nature that cannot be accommodated by Euclidian geometry.


5.  “Fractal Geometry” [article cited from Grolier Encyclopedia], Fractals by Vickie, ABM Enterprises (http://www.abm-enterprises.net/fractalgeometry.html).


6.  Segami (http://www.segami.com/suminagashi.htm).


7.  Suminagashi:  The Ancient Art of Japanese Marbling (http://www.suminagashi.com/).


8.  For modern-day artists, see for example:

“Roxanne Regan-Briggs Gallery and Profile Page”, Abstract Earth Gallery (http://www.abstractearth.com/artist_bio.asp?artist_id=91). 

“Artist Leo De Goede Gallery Page”, Paul Kasmin Gallery (http://www.paulkasmingallery.com/artists/LeoDeGoede/works.htm).

“Ella Sipho’s Premier Artist Portfolio”, Artists Portfolios (http://www.absolutearts.com/portfolios/s/sipho).

9.  Ray Walder, A Little on Taoism and the Problem of Good and Evil (http://www.exploretaoism.com/Goodevil.htm).


10.  The National Academies, U.S. National Committee on Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, The National Academy of Sciences, Research Trends in Fluid Dynamics (http://www7.national-academies.org/usnctam/Fluid_Dynamics.html).


11.  Pete Brown, The Ancient Greeks & Nature (http://www.mountainman.com.au/ancients.html).


12.  Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe, “Water and the Sacred”, Sacred Places (http://witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/water.html).


13.  Witcombe, H2O – The Mystery, Art and Science of Water (http://witcombe.sbc.edu/water/participants.html).


14.  See, for example, a very mathematical treatment of fluid turbulence in:

A.M. Selvan in collaboration with S. Fadnavis, Theory of Everything for Chaos, Quantum Mechanics and Gravity Applicable to Weather Patterns, 2.3 Turbulent (chaotic) Fluctuations and Selfsimilar Structure Formation (http://www.geocities.com/amselvam/).


15.  “Atomism”, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomism).


16.  William Hamilton III, The Flow of Gravity, Space-Ether Series Paper 2, Revision 1 (http://www.astrosciences.info/FlowGrav.html).


17.  The most cutting edge hypotheses currently in favor portray space as anything from strings to membranes to foams, loops or spin networks.


18.  Juan Calsiano, A Case For A Fluid Substrate



 19.  Barry Baily, The Superfluid Model (http://www.freewebs.com/superfluid/index.htm).


20.  David Wilcock, “Chapter Six:  The Universal Heartbeat”, The Divine Cosmos (http://ascension2000.com/DivineCosmos/).


21.  Hamilton (http://www.astrosciences.info/FlowGrav.html).


22.  Henry H. Lindner, Flowing Space over Relativity (http://www.geocities.com/hlindner1/Writings/Draft/Physess2001.htm).


23.  Brown, Theories of the Aether (http://www.mountainman.com.au/aether.html).


24.  Joel Morrison, “Sorce Theory”, Anpheon.org (http://anpheon.org/).


25.  subtillioN [screen name for Joel Morrison], “The Sorce Theory of Matter, at Ray Kurzweil, editor-in-chief, KurzweilAI.net Mind-Exchange [an open forum focusing on emerging trends in technology and related fields] (http://www.kurzweilai.net/mindx/frame.html?main=/mindx/show_thread.php?rootID=13620).


26.  Robert L. Oldershaw, Fractal Cosmology (http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw/menu.html).


27.  Anup Rej, Multifractal Universe (http://worldmultimedia.biz/Science/).


28.  James F. Cooper, “Letters”, American Arts Quarterly, winter 2006, vol 23 number 1, p 57.



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