Intervals of Infinity Via Form and Color
In late 2021, I found myself with an impulse to try my hand at designing some clocks. After more than a decade of experience as a non-objective geometric and color-centric painter, who often pondered time as one facet of painting, I wanted to consider the possibilities of how form and color might be rendered as a functional object while operating as visual poems as measurements of moments. Working on my first batch of nine clocks definitely “ticked my tock”, so to speak, and I was bitten by the clock-design bug. I’ve designed 27 clocks at the time of this writing, and hope to design more, time-permitting.
The musical “Rent” by Jonathan Larson famously points out that time, from a human perspective, may be emotional (measured in love!), perceptual, or experiential more than it is a hard scientific measure. In the song “Seasons of Love”, five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes of a year measured in sunsets, cups of coffee, inches, miles, laughter, strife, life, or love is a poetic promise of the human heart and soul.
All of our days appear to be numbered, and we are all bound by the mysterious constraints of time. We know that time can last forever when one is in a doctor’s office waiting room or while doing unwelcome chores, but that it disappears in a flash when spent having fun with the ones we love. As Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in “Everything is Illuminated”, “Memory was supposed to fill the time, but it made time a hole to be filled. Each second was two hundred yards, to be walked, crawled. You couldn’t see the next hour, it was so far in the distance. Tomorrow was over the horizon, and would take an entire day to reach.”
Alan Lightman’s bestselling fiction book “Einstein’s Dreams” presents time theories as dreams, with young Albert Einstein dreaming about time, in 30 chapters of iterations that range from fantasy to aspects of truth. The book presents a world with no time, time as a circle in which people’s lives are an infinite loop, birds as time, a world in which people only live for a day, a world in which people live forever, and much more.
Human imagination is not bound by time or space — not really. One minute, my mind can be in the 1890s in France, and in another minute I can be climbing the big magnolia tree in the yard of my childhood home in Richmond, Virginia in the United States in the 1980s. Artist Paul Klee, in his “Pedagogical Sketchbook” wrote that “The contrast between man’s ideological capacity to move at random through material and metaphysical spaces and his physical limitations, is the origin of all human tragedy. It is this contrast between power and prostration that implies the duality of human existence.”
So, while my mind can imagine a future five years from now, it’s possible that I might not exist at all then, physically. Dreams travel, minds travel, and time travels.
Beyond dreaming, current scientific theories suggest that time changes due to gravity. It is possible that the linear or chronological perceptual experience of time that humans have, where one minute seems to fall after the next in a timeline of past, present and future, may not be how time as a broader concept or entity exists. Aside from the fictionalized version of his dreams, Einstein’s actual theories show that moving clocks tick more slowly than a stationary clock, clocks run slower in deeper areas of gravity, and the physical geometry of the universe (distances, coordinates, and directions) — space itself — is not independent of time.
As a miniscule human in a vast universe, with human limits to perceptual and cognitive intuition and understanding about said universe, the prospect of visualizing time via elemental form and color is either a primitive or sophisticated way to imagine time; and it might also be a way of playfully merging the geometry of nature that exists in macroscopic and microscopic ways, with the measurement of human moments. I also feel that my clock designs are a celebration of the time we have while alive, with all of life’s mysteries, joys, trials, and sadnesses.
I believe the potential of color, form, composition, art, and design is endless and infinite. I think chromatic energy, or the energy of color, might go on forever. As far as expressing the increments on a clock’s face as an artist or designer, an unending stream of variations might occur. I’ve playfully considered a number of possibilities, from more literal, as in the clock titled “TICKED OFF” in which forms serve as increments depicting the hours building up through a day like beads on an abacus; to a reduction in clarity in the clock titled “WHAT TIME IS IT”, in which letterforms merge until they are barely legible. Mysteries remain about time. There is so much potential for imaginative exploration within the context of that which we might never fully understand. It is with this spirit in mind, along with my years exploring color and form as a painter, that I have welcomed my recent expedition into designing clocks.
So, I ask, “Which clock ticks your tock?”