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Painting Notes for Live Worms

Today’s been a chicken-with-his-head-cut-off day for me, getting ready for the Live Worms Show this weekend. Don’t forget, the reception is Friday night, 7-11. More info here. Squawk, splorp, squawk!

Today I photographed my most recent 11 paintings with my heavy-duty old film camera, got the negs scanned, and added them to my paintings page. And then I expanded my painting notes, essentially writing a catalog of my total of 30 paintings to date—though not every single one of these pictures is gonna be on the walls. I’m gonna paste in the notes right here, though you can also get to them off my paintings page.

Note that thumbnails are clickable so you can see slightly larger images. Whee!

1. My Parents

Oil on canvas on canvas, 20" x 16", Oct, 1999.

I started painting in 1999 because I was working on a novel about the life of the painter Peter Bruegel. I wanted to understand from the inside how it felt to paint. Another motivation was that I was on sabbatical from teaching, and I had a little spare time. And I’ve always thought it might be find an alternate creative outlet besides writing.

My wife, Sylvia, has been a painter from way back. We signed up together for an evening painting class sponsored by the San Jose Art Museum. We learned to use oil paints, and I stuck with them for a few years.

My first painting is based on a photo of my parents, taken on a rare trip of theirs to Florida in the early 1950s. I added a UFO—and discovered a personal style.

Note that my mother’s hair is pointing upwards towards the saucer. I used to call this picture The Immaculate Conception, and say that the saucer impregnated my mother via information-rays, as surely I’m too special a person to be born of normal man and woman! But now I don’t bother saying that. I’m more like my father all the time.

 

2. Arf and the Saucer

Oil on canvas, 20"x16", April, 1999.

This early painting remains one of my favorites. Beginner’s luck. It shows my beloved dog Arf (who appears in four of my novels: The Hollow Earth, Saucer Wisdom, Frek and the Elixir, and As Above So Below). He used to drink out of a certain fountain in Los Gatos every day. I sketched him there and added a UFO. When I made the aliens look like starfish I was thinking of H. P. Lovecraft’s obsession with echinoderm-like aliens. But my niece Stella thought of a cuter explanation for their appearance: the aliens are the stars from the sky!

 

3. Saucer Wisdom

Oil on canvas, 30" x 24", June, 1999.

In 1999 I published a millennial novel Saucer Wisdom. It was marketed as a non-fiction work of futurology. To complicate things, one of the characters is “Rudy Rucker.” This painting shows my character Frank Shook, my character Rudy Rucker, and a Mandelbrot-set-like alien near the Devil’s Butte in Montana—a saucerian locale I visited for research.

 

4. The Attack of the Mandelbrot Set

Oil on canvas, 24" x36", October, 1999.

My wife, Sylvia, served as the artist’s model for the women under attack; I took two photos of her in the Mohave desert pretending to be seeing a saucer.

A few years ago I wrote a short story “As Above, So Below,” that’s in my Gnarl! collection. The story is about a UFO that is a giant multidimensional fractal of the kind called a “Mandelbrot set.” This story was also produced as a one-act play in Fort Worth, Texas. Here’s a quote from the story.

***

“The ship itself was shaped in three main parts. There was a great big back section with a dimple in it, and then there was a smaller spherical section attached opposite the dimple, and sticking out of the front of the sphere section was a long spike kind of thing. It was just like—oh my God!—just like a giant three-dimensional Mandelbrot set! Though also like a beetle in a way, and like a jellyfish."

 

5. A Square

Oil on canvas, 30"x24", May, 2000.

This is A Square, the hero of Edwin Abbott’s novel Flatland. His wife is a line segment. She’s beating her tail, that’s why it’s blurred. I got the underlying Flatland space pattern from some leaf shadows that were falling onto my canvas as I painted in the back yard.

 

6. Big Sur

30" x 24", August, 2000.

In 2003, I went camping alone near Kirk Flats in Big Sur. The second night I was standing there naked watching the sun go down and the moon come up. I could feel the Earth turning like a big wheel, and soon I saw the Big Dipper in the sky. I had some problems with flies biting me and I saw a lizard on a rock, so they’re in the picture too.

 

7. Saucer Dogs

Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16", Sept 2000.

A simple little painting that I made for my daughter, Isabel. Two dogs in a UFO! This was one of the first paintings I did in acrylic paint.

The dogs are modeled on our old family pet Arf, who I also painted into Stun City, Arf and the Saucer, and The Hollow Earth. Here’s a description of Arf from my novel, The Hollow Earth.

***

“He had the noble profile and the feathery legs of a retriever. His legs and ruff where white, but his head and body had the tawny coloring of a collie. I’d grown up talking to him like a person. He had a way of moving his eyebrows and his feathery tail so expressively that I often felt he understood me.”

 

8. Spaceland

Oil on canvas, 30" x 24", February 2001.

I painted this to help imagine a scene in my novel Spaceland, where my character goes beyond four-dimensional space and into infinite dimensional Hilbert space. I like how smooth the shapes came out.

That creature with the mustache has a name in my book, he’s Drabk the Sharak of Okbra, which is a name I drew from Kee Dewdney’s book, The Planiverse—with Kee’s permission. I based Drabk’s heavy mustache on that of Saddam Hussein; when I painted this, we still hadn’t gotten into the second Iraq war. Here’s some of the text in my novel describing this scene:

***

“The sky was the perfect bright blue of an autumn day, the hills were the fine, crisp green of early spring. Thanks to some oddity of the fourth dimension, many of the hills seemed to float up in the sky. Conversely, there were holes in the ground holding patches of blue sky. In this part of Dronia, earth and sky were mixed together. Weaving from hill to floating hill were the thick, brownish-purple stalks of enormous vines … The floating hills were like islands, each of them seemingly rounded off and grassy on every side. Only by moving my third eye could I see the Doctor-Seuss-style natural bridges connecting them to the ground.”

 

9. Under My Bed

Oil on canvas, 30" x 20", May, 2001.

In the first chapter of my novel Frek and the Elixir, the young hero Frek discovers a UFO under his bed with an alien cuttlefish as passenger. (Actually that’s my hand in the picture, not Frek’s.) I got the glowing look of the saucer door from an oven door in Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgment in Vienna. The cuttlefish’s name is Professor Bumby. Here’s the passage where Frek sees the UFO—which he calls “The Anvil”:

***

“Yellow light spread across Frek’s floor. Light from underneath his bed. Frek leaned over and, yes, the purple thing he’d seen that morning was visible again. The Anvil was spherical and purple. A bright triangle of yellow-orange light glowed in its side. The triangle was a door with a thing coming out: a tiny form dark against the light, growing bigger, moving forward, its shape coming clear as it came. It was a flattish lump with a cluster of arms or legs sticking out the front end. It had two shining eyes.—a cuttlefish. The cuttlefish gazed up at Frek with large, kind, wise eyes. The eyes were a pleasant shade of gold, with dark, wiggly pupils. The cuttlefish’s flesh was shaded in tints of green. ‘You’re the one,’ said the cuttlefish in a low voice. ‘You’ll save the world.’ The voice sounded human, manly, comforting. The cuttlefish stretched out one of his short sucker-arms and twined it around Frek’s hand, just like Frek had been teaching his toon to do. The creature’s touch was smooth and warm and—tingly.”

 

10. Stun City

Oil on canvas, 30" x 24", December, 2001.

This image illustrates the second chapter of my far future SF novel Frek and the Elixir. It’s a biotech world in which the buildings are grown. Next to Frek are his faithful dog Arf and his “grulloo” friend Gibby. They’ve just arrived at a town called Stun City.

Just for fun, I painted in a bunch of Virgins of Guadalupe into the picture as well, even though they don’t figure in the novel. I’ve always thought these religious icons look somehow science-fictional: a little figure floating in a spiky glowing ball. Here’s a description of the scene from my book.

***

“Just as the sun went down, they topped one last rise and the town finally lay spread out before them, a lush parkland of house-trees and aircorals, with its famous central cluster of enormous, odd-shaped buildings. The huge NuBioCom puffball had just turned on its lights; sending bright beams out across Stun City, as if reaching for its citizens. Frek studied the porthole-like windows for a minute, imagining the inner structures. The windows were aligned one above the other, forming ribbons like the stripes on a gourd. A bit closer than the puffball glowed the Kritterworks cube, set close to the banks of the River Jaya. Four sides of the cube were solid, and the two end-walls were cored out with great and small tunnels. Frek could see a big central gallery and at least eight smaller galleries running the length of the cube. The Stun City structure that interested Frek the most of all was the legendary Toonsmithy—this was where the very best toons were crafted. The Toonsmithy was a giant beanstalk, trained into the shape of a corkscrew that spiraled up into the sky."

 

11. The Hacker and the Ants

Oil on canvas, 20 x 24, March, 2002.

This is my (unused) design for the cover for my Silicon Valley SF thriller, The Hacker and the Ants. I like having the hacker being a skull, a pirate, and a light bulb—and that he’s wired into the ant. In my novel an evil computer hacker creates an ant-like virus which destroys television. My character rides a virtual ant through cyberspace to an encounter with the hacker. Here’s a description from the book:

***

“My ant under me bowed forward repeatedly, making slavish obeisances to the figure with the white face and the zippered padlocked mouth—the one I thought of as Death. Such bizarre cartoon-like or mask-like body images were common in the screwed-up cryp and phreak circles that criminals and teenagers involved themselves in. Death’s dark, cowled body rippled. The ant regurgitated my data gloves, simultaneously releasing a substantial heap of what looked like reflection hologram memory ribbon from the cloaca at the back of her gaster. Gently stridulating, she inched back to the furthest corner of the room and crouched down there, the light glinting off her great, faceted eyes.”

 

12. My Life in a Nutshell

Oil on canvas, 24" x 20", March, 2003.

This is an homage to Philip Guston, who sometimes painted eye-heads like this starting at empty bottles. In a way these were self-portraits. My Guston-style self-portrait shows me focused on a computer keyboard, which is how I while a way a great deal of my waking time.

 

13. Da Nha Duc

Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 24", July, 2003.

This painting marks the beginning of my switch from oil paint to acrylic paint. I like how fast I can work with acrylic paint, and how easy it is to clean up. With oils, I often had to wait several days between applying layers. Over time I’ve been learning to mix various mediums in with the acrylic paint to give it more of oil paint’s transparency and workability.

This image was inspired by a frame of a Carl Barks comic book. Naturally I had to put in a UFO and, if you look closely, a tiny snowflake-like alien in the middle. Sylvia had the idea of giving my duck a Vietnamese-sounding name; while teaching, resepectively, ESL and computer science in Silicon Valley for twenty years, we’ve become friendly with hundreds or even thousands of Vietnamese students. I ended up putting Da Nha Duc into my novel Frek and the Elixir. Here are some passages where he appears:

***

“Some Saturdays Frek would fight with Geneva and Ida to try and keep them from watching the Goob Dolls, who always debuted their latest skits and situations at the same time as that funny Vietnamese toon about Da Nha Duc and his nephews Huy, Lui, and Duy… Her shirt was a live wall skin playing, just now, a loop of a smug Da Nha Duc, throwing back his shoulders and curving his beak in triumph.”

 

14. Disco La Hampa

Oil on canvas, 36" x 24", October, 2004.

This is a kind of alien nightclub scene. I was thinking about the other-worldly hangout La Hampa that appears in my novel Mathematicians in Love. Also of the classic Toulouse-Lautrec poster, Moulin Rouge. That’s a star frog in the limo on the right. The jellyfish are based on Belousov-Zhabotinsky scrolls, which are one of my favorite types of cellular-automata-based computer graphics.

When I came to write about this scene, I didn’t in fact stick very close to my preliminary painting of it.

 

15. Jellyfish Lake

Acrylic on canvas, 28" x 24", June, 2005.

This is inspired by trip to Jellyfish Lake in Micronesia near Palau; some of my fellow divers took an underwater photo of me in this very pose. I put this scene into my novel Mathematicians in Love, where the big jellyfish just under the diver is a kind of god. Here’s a passage describing this scene:

***

“I dove down to about twenty feet, looking for the big one. My visual field held only sunlit yellow-green water and jellyfish, everywhere and at every angle. It was hard to tell which way was up. Just then I felt a cold flow of water against our feet, an upwelling as something huge moved towards the surface. Without even slowing down, the giant jellyfish moved into our location, engulfing me. Each of her gestures was ideally formed and laden with meaning; each gesture was a novel, a theorem, a cosmic work of art.”

 

16. Surfin’ Tiki

Oil on canvas, 24" x 24", June 2006.

I copied the sky for this picture from the beautiful spring sky overhead, then painted in the waves and the tiki.

The surfin’ tikis appear in a story I wrote with Marc Laidlaw, “The Perfect Wave.” They also apper in my novelPostsingular where I have some giant aliens who look like Easter Island moai statues. Here’s a short passage where one of them appears to the main character Thuy:

***

“Thuy thought she saw a live moai peering at her over Jayjay’s shoulder—huge, cave-browed, luminous, a tiki god with a pursed mouth that was almost a smile.”

 

17. Davenport Cliffs

Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, July 2006.

My wife and I saw a Monet show in San Francisco and got excited about painting en plein air. I painted this on a cliff near Davenport, California. Later I added in a UFO, an alien, and a giant squid. Perhaps this was overkill, as it’s a pretty strong landscape on its own.

 

18. Summer Day

Acrylic on canvas, 14" x 11", July 2006.

I painted this en plein air on a 105 degree August afternoon on Saint Joseph Hill above Los Gatos, California, sitting on the ground with ants crawling into my underwear and biting me. The empty field had stakes from a former vineyard, but when I painted them in, they looked confusing. So I made the stakes into alien snails and added—of course—a flying saucer. In this case, I think the saucer makes the picture.

 

19. The Hollow Earth

Oil on canvas, 24" x 24", September 2006.

We might suppose the Earth to be hollow like a tennis ball, with the inside filled with jumbles, floating lakes, and a mysterious pink light emanating from the center. Also to found are shrigs(=shrimp+pig), a flying nautilus, and the Great Old Ones that resemble giant sea cucumbers. The painting illustrates my adventure tale The Hollow Earth, and is based on a drawing by Mason Algiers Reynolds, a 19th Century traveler to the Earth’s interior. Here are some passages where Mason describes his view of the scene:

***

“The appearance of the sphere’s very center was as puzzling as before. All lines of sight near the center were warped and distorted, surrounding the center’s blobs of blue with weird halos and mirages. The light there was bright and chaotic and lacked all coherence. Central Sun? Perhaps not. I resolved to call it the Central Anomaly. Earth’s interior was illuminated not so much by the Anomaly proper as by the branching pink streamers of light that stretched from the Anomaly to the inner surface of the great planetary rind we’d fallen through. The tangled green band of the miles-thick jungle framed my view down into the Earth’s vast interior. It was pink and teeming with life, shading into mist in the distance. Flying creatures filled the air like schools of fish; here and there, larger creatures preyed on them. I could see three huge shellsquid in the distance. Despite the mist, I could see a good way up the sides of the interior surface around me. In the distance, above the trees, the landscape rose higher and higher, growing ever paler, till it was lost in distant mists. The landscape was all in patches. Parts of it were nubby deep green jungle, parts of it were smooth and a lighter green, and here and there were bare gray rocks. Beyond the nearest part of the jungle, I could make out a pale blue sea that shaded to green and blue-black. Perhaps there were deep marine holes in the Hollow Earth, places where Earth’s oceans connected to those upon the inner surface. Great vines thrust immense flowers out into the free, light-filled air above the sea. Rather than facing inward toward the Earth’s center, the flowers pointed toward the sea.”

 

20. Yellow Couch

Acrylic on paper, 22½" x 14½", June, 2007.

In June, 2007, my wife and I went to a painting workshop in Caunes, a small village in the southwest of France. Our teacher was the artist Glen Moriwaki. It was great working with him; he brought my art to a new level.

This was the first painting I did in Caunes; a yellow lawn-couch on the grass outside our group studio.

So as to make it easier to bring the paintings home, I worked mostly with acrylic on paper at the workshop. I like the smoothness of the paper painting surface, but when you’re done it’s a drag to have to frame the thing. The nice thing about canvases is that I can paint on the edges, and then it doesn’t really need a frame.

 

21. Partners

Acrylic on paper, 22½" x 14", June, 2007.

In Caunes, some trees like chestnuts were blooming in long branching flowers. I wanted to paint the leaves and flowers. To simplify things, I traced the shapes of the leaves onto my paper. I set the flowers into two small pots facing each other. And then I had the idea of making the flowers be the tentacles of creatures like cephalopods or hermit crabs. As I painted them, the creatures became deeply entwined, reaching into each others’ stuff, like bickering, inseparable partners.

 

22. Minerve Awning

Acrylic on paper, 21½" x 13½", June, 2007.

Our teacher Glen Moriwaki took our class on an outing to the ancient walled town of Minerve. As I was walking around looking for something to sketch for a painting, this awning caught my eye. This scene had the added virtue of being in front of a comfortable bench—which is a good way for an old man like me to pick his subject. I sketched it in pencil, took photos, and filled in the painting back in the studio, simplifying the scene considerably.

 

23. Caunes Vineyards

Acrylic on paper, 23" x 18", June, 2007.

Another landscape painting from the South of France, one of my favorites. I took some photos at this spot overlooking Caunes, did a pencil sketch, and painted it back in the studio.

Before starting, I primed the paper with some gesso that I’d tinted pink, which gives the whole picture a nice warm quality.

The style of this one is inspired by Wayne Thiebaud’s late paintings of the fields and rivers in the delta region near Sacramento, California. I was also influenced by Kevin Brown, who was painting next to me in the studio every day.

Our workshop leader Glen Moriwaki said this painting of mine demonstrates that I could in principle let go of my science-fictional imagery and produce landscapes that are fantastic and dreamy without any additional props, and he’s right. But now and then I still like to paint SF things anyway.

 

24. Hylozoic Triptych (Center Panel): Jayjay and the Hrull

Acrylic on canvas, 38" x 38", June, 2007.

This is the biggest picture I’ve done so far. I painted it with the canvas still unstretched, stapled to a wall in the studio in Caunes. I was just getting started on my novel Hylozoic, which features a newlywed couple called Jayjay and Thuy. Hylozoic is the second in a trilogy of novels, the first of which is Postsingular; and the third of which will be called (probably) Transfinite.

“Hylozoic” is a word referring to the philosophical doctrine that everything is alive: rocks, atoms, stars. The scattered globs of light in this painting are there to represent the notion that in a hylozoic world the very air currents are alive.

Thanks to time travel, Jayjay has been getting painting lessons from no less a master than Hieronymus Bosch (so of course the picture has to be a triptych.) And that’s the back of Thuy Nguyen’s head in the front; she has long pigtails.

I was hoping to put giant flying alien manta rays into Hylozoic, so here I painted one of them here to get a feel for what they’re like. The aliens are collectively and individiually known as "the Hrull,", and this particular manta is named Duxie

The figure inside the Hrull is another of my characters, a boy called Chu. All three of these humans appeared in my novel Postsingular as well. Chu and the Hrull are about to pick up Jayjay and Thuy and take them back to the present time on Earth to save our planet from some other alien invaders called th Peng. But never mind about that.. The main thing here is the colors.

It was tough bringing this painting back on the airplane from France; I rolled it up inside some foam rubber and managed to talk the stewardesses into letting me park it in a little closet that they had for their coats.

 

25. Hylozoic Triptych (Left Panel): Thuy and the Subbies

Acrylic on canvas, 19" x 38", August, 2007.

This painting grew out of an en plein air session on St. Joseph’s Hill with my painter friend Vernon Head. There’s a big oak tree growing at the edge of a drop-off; although it looks a bit unstable, I’ve been visiting it for twenty years. I like the tree a lot, and I like how I can see some of the roots exposed in the gully wall.

I filled the sky with Zhabotinsky scrolls and got the tree done pretty quickly, but then the dirt wall was looking dull. So I covered it with little critters; I was thinking of them as nanomachines, which infest the Earth in my novel Postsingular, which precedes my novel Hylozoic (the central panel of the triptych).

Those birds dancing around the fire underground are sinister subdimensional beings called subbies. In Postsingular, they actually try to eat my character Thuy; you can see her uneasily looking down at them.

 

26. Hylozoic Triptych (Right Panel): The Beanstalk to Infinity

Acrylic on canvas, 19" x 38", September, 2007.

The triptych developed over four months along with my plans for my trilogy of novels: Postsingular, Hylozoic, and Transfinite. I’ve always been fascinated by the fairy tale, “Jack and the Beanstalk.” It’s a powerful, archetypal notion: a seed that grows a beanstalk that you can climb to heaven. Given that I plan to write about actually infinite levels of the universe, an endless beanstalk seems like a good way to get there.

I got the composition for this panel from The Ascent of the Blessed, which is a panel in a lesser-known Bosch triptych, depicting souls flying up to a circular disk of white light.

You can see Jayjay, Thuy, and Duxie the Hrull way up at the top. And one of the subbies at the bottom is waving good-bye. After painting this picture, I knew what to put into the last chapter of my novel Hylozoic. My characters have to fly up an endless beanstalk that they find growing out of the subdimensions. And then I’ll move on to Transfinite.

 

27. The Talking Pitchfork

Acrylic on canvas, 16" x 20", July, 2007.

After the trip to France, I more enthused than ever about en plein air painting. My artist friend Vernon Head is an outdoor painter, too, so we started going on outings around Los Gatos, not just sketching but taking paints and easels along.

This is a field on St. Joseph’s Hill; we were up here on a very hot August day, so it was very much a matter of finding a shady spot to paint from. The landscape seemed a little too simple to me, so I went ahead and put in a character who was just about to appear in my novel Hylozoic: a god-like talking pitchfork named Groovy. When I painted this picture, I was thinking that the pitchfork was going to be evil, even Satanic, but as write about him some more, I’m learning he’s a pretty good guy. A Kentucky hillbilly, basically.

 

28. Lexington Reservoir

Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16", August, 2007.

Another blazing hot summer day painting en plein air with Vernon Head. I wanted a scene with water, and I’d found a likely inlet off Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos. When we got there it was early afternoon, and the only shadow we could find was far up in a gully, quite an awkward spot to sit.

The annually dwindling water supply of the reservoir etches the steep gravelly sides with horizontal lines like bathtub rings. Some white egrets were hanging out here, and I did see one land, although I didn’t actually paint him in till I was back home.

 

29. Prickly Pear Cactus

Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 24" September, 2007.

I love the shapes of prickly pear cactus. I spotted a big stand of them up near the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center that stands on a hill over Los Gatos. Vernon and I went up there and I set to work.

 

30. Shells

Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30", October, 2007.

When I was at Glen Moriwaki’s workshop in Caunes, I met the artist Kevin Brown. He was instantly a good influence on my painting; he works very rapidly and freely, often finishing a large painting in a few hours—and just as often going back and totally changing the painting a few hours later.

Kevin owns and runs the Live Worms gallery in the North Beach are of San Francisco. On week days he uses it as his studio and his personal gallery, and on weekends he rents out the space to emerging artists who want to stage a show of their own.

As I’d accumulated quite a few paintings, and I wanted to do something special for the launch of my new novel Postsingular, I had the idea of getting my publisher, Tor Books, to help me rent Live Worms for a combined art show and book release party.

With the show coming up, I figured I’d do one more picture, so I painted a still life of a bunch of sea-shells I have around the house.

View Rudy’s Paintings

Shop for Prints of Rudy’s Paintings at rudy.Imagekind.com (I’ll be adding high res files for the latest pictures in a couple of weeks.)

4 Responses to “Painting Notes for Live Worms”

  1. linus r. Says:

    “Surfin’ Tiki” would look fantastic in the Getty Museum next to a few classic Rembrandt originals….

    (exhibit A)…. Rembrandt: “Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife”
    (exhibit B)…. Rembrandt: “Portrait of Hendrickje Stofells”
    (exhibit C)…. RudyRucker: “Surfin’ Tiki”

  2. linus r. Says:

    “Caunes Vineyards” reminds me of mystic-historic Orange County era 1880-1940…. glimpses of this historic county are rare, as everything has now been paved….

  3. herald Says:

    YOUR COLOUR MAKE M HAPPY>>

  4. HeavyGod Says:

    Really good and really interesting post. I expect (and other readers maybe :)) new useful posts from you!
    Good luck and successes in blogging!


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