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Swirling Timbers of Chaos

Brushstrokes 24,875
66” x 60”

Enter an edgy, dark 3D world of perspective and depth. Swirling energy pulls us toward a center of sfumato and atmospheric darkness. Paul’s desire to merge the worlds of his passions brought determination to the process of this painting. Art meets technology to create meaning.

The space was first constructed as a clay model. Kirby used three-dimensional helical splines inside a mathematical cube which moved from model space through world space, camera space, display space to robotic space before eventually emerging on the canvas. The painting moves from a dark narrative feel into awe and wonder merging technological genius with strong emotive force, leaving the viewer with a sense of unease and wonder.

Explore paul’s process

Artistic Concept

Paul Kirby’s initial impulse for this painting was to create an edgy, dark, intense experience. Swirling energy passing destructively through “pickup sticks” provided the initial imaginative spark.

Artistic Development

Conceptual images for the ominous atmosphere, color and lighting, were borrowed from how the dark, misty moors might appear in Sherlock Holmes’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” A scaled, clay model, with balsa-wood sticks, was instrumental in further evolving this concept.

If you start with images of trees in a forest, and then build a clay model with thin, wooden sticks representing trees, you would imagine all the ends of the sticks stuck into the clay, representing the trees in a forest.

However, the initial artificial-intelligence rules for seeding the timbers in this three-dimensional, mathematical world did not specify that the timbers had to be “grounded.” What a pleasant artistic surprise when the jagged lower-ends of some of the timbers ominously floated overhead, enhancing the desired artistic effect for the painting.

The foggy, misty sky and dark atmosphere used a technique called sfumato, from the realm of Renaissance techniques.

Technical Description

Parts of this painting were created using a form of artificial intelligence called Complex Adaptive Systems. Paul wanted to continue evolving his approach from previous paintings of using “ants and breadcrumbs,” along with stigmergy and subsumptive architecture. The goal here was to progress from the ants 2D environment into a 3D world, an evolution akin to the ways Renaissance painters looked at perspective and added depth to their art. (Ref the brown “Nested Curves” painting)

Creating Ants in a 3-D World

For the swirling energy at the center of the painting, Paul wanted three-dimensional helical splines inside the mathematical cubic simulation. Next, Paul inserted breadcrumbs in the cube along these spline lines for the ants to discover. Then he randomly dropped a colony of 10,000 ants in and allowed them to wander around three-dimensionally in this virtual world.

When an ant discovered a breadcrumb, it would deposit a pebble. To speed up the simulation of the ants’ work efforts, pheromones were added, an element which left a chemical trail, but which also decayed with time. Later, pebbles were collected and converted into brush strokes representing swirling flashes of energy.


The developmental interplay of the artistic story and technical scheme created an exciting opportunity in Paul’s quest for the fusion of art and science.

As hoped for, the painting captures the swirling, malevolent energy and elicits emotion in the viewer, leaving a lingering trail of questions to keep the viewer engaged.