I flew a plane for the first time yesterday, it was an incredible experience, and yet it is only the first step in a new artistic project. The aircraft was a two-seater trainer called a Diamond. Sitting in the cockpit surrounded by gauges, buttons, and levers you are made intensely aware that an aircraft is an instrument of control – there are primary controls and even secondary ones, but with the wind buffeting the plane up and down and side to side while thousands of feet off of the ground I felt exhilarated and calm, but not really in control – more like I was flying by the seat of my pants. The thermals rising from the ground would suddenly lift the small aircraft so that you were pushed deep into your seat, and then just as quickly drop you so that you strained against the harness buckled across your chest and over your shoulders. At the same time the plane seems to slide left and right as the wind shifts and gusts creating an incredible range of motion for the aircraft – from moment to moment the little plane could seemingly be anywhere – up, down, left or right, but always moving forward. The training pilot said that it was as bumpy a day as he had seen in autumn. I had no sense of having complete control, but adapting from moment to moment making it go where you wanted was an incredible feeling. Flying was a lot like painting in that you have an idea of where you want to go, and then you work and adapt until you get the results that you want.
For me personally this was a big step, a milestone in a way. Like painting this was something that I had never done before losing my sight, but had always wanted to. When I first lost my sight I really thought that I would never be able to do anything new; this flight for me has special meaning in that it further shatters that very early misconception of mine. This isn’t why I climbed into the cockpit though. I am often reminded how life and art are so indivisibly tied together, and the reasons that brought me to fly in the first place take me back to this lesson once again. Because flight is so incredibly symbolic and carries special meaning, as does the sky, this combination makes the perfect canvas to express art.
Flight has long been symbolically important to people; this is easy to forget in this day and age where flight has become a concrete part of our lives. As long as man has watched the birds he has dreamed of flying, so much so that it has colored our language and even our perceptions in the way we view the world. In our literature and poetry flying is symbolic of liberation and of rising above the troubles and problems of our earth bound existence. The sky is seen as clean, pristine, and the heavens are even viewed as a spiritual place – leaving earthly worries and difficulties behind.
I was thinking of murals and of how large you could go, but even the most enormous of paintings is limited by the wall that it is on. I was dwelling on this and of the limits that gallery and building walls impose upon us. I thought, almost laughingly, that it is a shame that we cannot paint the sky. Imagine that; a canvas that touches everyone, and is only limited by natural laws. It occurred to me that art done here on this particular canvas wouldn’t be visible just to the people in a room in a gallery or museum, or even to the passerby’s of a painting on a wall of a city street, but possibly to all the people of a city. I have a vision of people standing and looking at art, not inside rooms starring at walls, but outside in the light all looking upwards and experiencing the same painting as it unfolds.
The paintings would be done in colored smoke that is placed in precise locations to create abstract forms. I will go into this in more detail later on, but through study it seems possible to have a great deal of control over both hue and placement of colors – that’s pretty much all you can ask of any medium that you use to paint with. You decide what color and shape you want and where to put it and then execute the stroke – do enough of those and you end up with a painting. Every medium has different handling properties, oil paint and water color are extremely different for example, and this will be same of course when it comes to painting with smoke.
In the flight that I did yesterday I was with an experienced pilot who told me what to do and when to do it, and also let me know all of the readings on the instruments. The plan is to phase the pilot out of the picture until all of his duties are replaced with a computer that will say aloud all of the instrument readings (GPS, air speed, altitude, etc.). The technology is already there, a blind Australian pilot has flown halfway around the world using these computers. Using the GPS and altimeter together it should be possible to place colors very precisely in the sky.
This is going to be a long road that is going to require many steps, but I am excited that after so long merely talking and planning about this project I am finally under way.