The Bug Nebula, Scorpius - Metamorphosis
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The Bug Nebula, Scorpius. 24" x 38", oil on canvas.
The painting was inspired by the Hubbell telescope photo. I originally started this painting for two reasons, one academic, the other more philosophical.
Academically, I wanted to work on mastering chromatic black. Chet and I had seen a gallery showing of floral arrangements on chromatic black backgrounds and I loved the three dimensional depth of the color. Inspirations include works from Hannah Glukstein and Dolores Kiriacon. I love how the multi-dimensional black created from three vibrant hues makes the other colors pop, as though they might burst free of the canvas.
Philosophically, I'm a sun sign Scorpio and wanted to examine the part of the Cosmos whose energy infused my soul the day I was born. I wondered what emotions and thoughts would be evoked in painting the Scorpius segment of the sky.
The first thing that came to mind was a lesson on light pollution I soaked up from a ranger talk last summer in Dinosaur National Monument. The rangers lamented the fact that it is hard for us to meditate on our cosmic beginnings and feel the wonder the night sky inspires when we cannot see the stars. It's true; I definitely feel a stronger connection to my Cosmic origins, and a more profound perspective on life, when I can gaze up into the sky and see nothing but stars and the colorful band of the Milky Way. My first experience with this was in 2004, on my first trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas. I remember staring at the night sky completely mesmerized, for hours. I had never felt so significant and insignificant at the same time. Ever since, I have tried to take trips to the middle of the American West to escape light pollution so I can revel in the wonder of the night sky.
It made me wonder: Why are we so adverse to darkness? Because it's quiet? Because it makes us feel small or a lack of control? Because darkness reminds us of death?
The Bug Nebula is a planetary nebula, which results when a star dies. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with planets. Instead, it is so named because it looks like tiny planetary discs in smaller telescopes. Really, it's a dying star...the grandest, brightest objects in the Universe have a beginning and an end. The red dwarf has a dense core that burns off helium as it dies, and becomes a white dwarf, throwing off massive plumes of gas. This last gasp of life lasts a brief (by cosmic standards) 50,000 years. To confront fears and anxiety that stem from change, transitions, and death, I needed a different perspective, and found it in a nebula, which to me, tells a story of the grace and miracle that is death, because from the gas clouds, new worlds will eventually be born. The womb is dark, and we're brought into this world from its darkness, just like the caterpillar's metamorphosis into a butterfly in a cocoon. We emerge, and burst forth into life, and like this butterfly-looking nebula, we will burn through our allotted fuel and dissipate back into star dust. Scorpio is known for hidden depths and the potential that lies in the transitions from dark to light. Just as chromatic black gets its depth from red, orange, and teal, death itself is far more than it seems. It is an opportunity, and a miracle, the same as birth. They're the same energy, just manifested in an infinite number of ways.
We can accept the beauty in the process and use it to stretch our wings and expand, transforming our fears and grief into something beautiful. I didn't feel any pressure to copy the Hubbell photo exactly, because by the time the light from the nebula reached the telescope, who knows how much the actual nebula had shifted and changed? Or maybe the way its painted with sharper lines and colors was BEFORE the Hubbell photo happened, when the nebula was younger, brighter, and more dynamic. All realities exist.
Painting is a meditation on the significance and insignificance of the individual human existence... which can be refreshing when the gravity of the culture we have created as a society becomes dense, oppressive, and heavy, like the crushing gravitational pull of a black hole...or a baby pressing its way through a birth canal. When the tension is released, such as when a star collapses and forms a nebula, beautiful things can happen. I like watching the progression of a painting. And like this butterfly-looking nebula, I can relate to the shifts that occur all along the metamorphosis.