James Webb Space Telescope Project
In 2017, I was one of several artists selected by NASA to create artwork inspired by the construction of the new James Webb Space Telescope, which will replace the Hubble Space Telescope when it is launched in 2021. Since then, I have continued working on a series of drawings based on the photographs I took during my visits, trying to convey some of the awe evoked by this engineering marvel. I have been thinking about the telescope’s intended purpose, once it reaches its location orbiting the sun, as a break-through tool for imaging objects which we have never seen, or knew existed, and events that happened at the beginning of time.
An idea that has been simmering in my mind is the concept of the mundane contained within, or juxtaposed with, the exquisite. Many of the recent drawings I have done, with the JWST as its subject, describe an object of incredible precision, made with exotic materials, on the very cutting edge of what is possible to build. The main visual element of the telescope is the 21-foot-wide gold-plated primary mirror, whose purpose is to collect and focus infrared light from the edge of the visible universe and all points in between. In order to render a mirror in a drawing, one needs to describe what it reflects. Instead of showing what the JWST mirror will, or might, image, out in space, the drawing reflects the earthly environment in which it is being built, as well as elements of the telescope itself. Showing the instrument in the mundane terrestrial environment where it is being constructed, sets up a dichotomy with its exquisite engineering, as well as with the transcendent knowledge it will eventually will help us gain. The drawing is meant to make the viewer consider where we are here on earth, and then, what the telescope will show us about where we might be, or have been, in the galaxy and the universe.
An important question that should be asked of me is: "why spend a month drawing an image in charcoal and pastel instead of just producing a standard photograph?” One thing I have come to enjoy about this process is the idea, and the technique, of using a very imprecise medium, like soft charcoal, to render the image of one of the most technically advanced and precise objects ever devised and constructed by mankind, the JWST. Charcoal is also one of the most primitive and ancient tools for drawing, and I’m using it to describe a tool for science, that will be shot a million miles into space to help unlock some of the mysteries of our galaxy and the universe. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
I also appreciate how drawing with charcoal mimics the tonality of photography better than using pencil, pen or paint. I love the gradient tones that charcoal can produce. I trained as a photographer and spent a portion of my life practicing the craft. I have been seduced by the rich tonality that B&W photography can achieve. But, by directly drawing the image with charcoal and pastel, instead of printing a digital image, I find more artistic freedom, as well as a great deal more labor, and sometimes tedium. I have become the printer, in a way.
After working on a series about the Webb telescope itself, I became interested in what the telescope will see. This recent body of artwork turns its focus towards an area of our own galaxy that is of great interest to astronomers – the very center of mass of our Milky Way galaxy. This area will be observed by the James Webb Telescope, with its state-of-the-art instruments, to help us understand our place in the universe. One area of interest to me is the geometry of the elliptical paths that the stars take in their journey around the super massive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Like much of my previous artwork, this new series focuses on geometry, but instead of depicting physical geometric objects, these new works describe the theoretical geometry of an orbital path.
These paintings are done in two ways. One is a very controlled style using small brushes and string to mathematically describe each ellipse, and the second approach is to use India ink to paint the lines that trace the orbits in a looser, more energetic way. Because of the colloidal suspension properties of the ink, when it is applied in a flooded manner, the pigment particles move, indicating an internal fundamental energy within the ink. This technique helps to evoke some of the fundamental energy that exists everywhere and, in this case at the center of our galaxy.
Thoughts on QED
My latest work, “JWST vs. QED,” is about space, time, and light. It is a pastel and charcoal drawing of a close-up view of the new, and yet to be launched, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It depicts a part of the telescope's primary hexagonal gold-plated mirror, with an overlay of a graphic illustration of a Feynman Diagram. This particular diagram is a representation of quantum electrodynamics, that describes how an electron can emit a charge-carrying photon, and then that photon can be absorbed, slightly later, or slightly earlier, by another electron. In this particular diagram, the wiggly line represents the photon moving to the right, forward in space after being emitted from an electron. The photon is also moving down in this diagram, indicating that it can travel back in time. Effectively, the photon is absorbed by one electron before it was emitted from the other electron, seemingly violating laws of physics and running time backwards. This is a difficult aspect of quantum physics that uses retrocausality and quantum entanglement to explain the phenomena. This theory attempts to show that space and time are effectively interchangeable and are facets of the same thing, depending on ones relative point of view.
The James Webb Telescope can also be seen as a time-machine of sorts; the more distant the objects it images, the further back in time it sees. This is possible because the light emitted by distant objects takes time to reach our eyes. So, what we see has already happened sometime in the past.
The challenge I set for this artwork, was to juxtapose a rendering of the JWST, with it’s large light reflecting mirror (and it’s ability to see back in time), with a diagram describing quantum particles and the fluidity of time and our perception of light — the large and the small, the classic and the quantum, and the mutability of time.
Considering Industrial Infrastructure 2015
My artwork explores the aesthetic experience of the ignored industrial landscape, presenting, through an artist’s eye, the structures that are all around us, but which we do not always really see. I want to challenge viewers to shift their assumptions about the landscape -- to recognize, appreciate and find pleasure in the inherent aesthetic importance of industrial systems. But I also want my work to spur consideration of how we rely on this infrastructure, and yet largely take it for granted.
My images of water towers, refineries, power plants, factories are not designed to send any predetermined message, about consumerism, conservation, or the marvels of industrial and engineered achievement -- but rather to encourage our community to squarely face, and contemplate, what we often ignore.
Change, Paradox and Abstraction 2015
My recent work focuses on transformation and flux. The work examines changes of state and perception -- turning raw material into energy, shifting our view of industrial structures from blight to beauty, and back again. Metamorphosing photographic images -- from positive to negative, realist to abstract, architectural to geometric, digital ink to charcoal – helps reveal the paradoxes of the our relationship to the man-made landscape. The images transcend documentary photography, since I abstract and transpose the subjects to evoke the experience of particular places --- infrastructure in full working operation, and unused assets that have aged and weathered with time.
Some of the pieces probe the dynamics of iconic “industrial sentinels” that dominate their settings, but are also dependent on, and affected by, the environment itself – a story of mutual interaction and the interplay of architecture, nature, and economics. In the charcoal works, the act of translating the manipulated photographic images into drawings simplifies the composition, and abstracts it further -- interpretation and choice bent on bringing out what is hiding before our eyes.
About the Artist
Timothy Makepeace’s artwork explores the interaction of engineering, science, architecture and nature. His subjects range from decaying industrial structures in the natural landscape to the newest NASA space telescope bound for solar orbit.
Makepeace examines the environmental and aesthetic impacts of industrial architecture and the forces nature exerts on man-made structures, focusing on the inherent, but often ignored, beauty of both. His space telescope works describe the exquisite geometry of the scientific instrument, the process of constructing it, and what the telescope will image after its launch.
Influenced by Constructivism, Makepeace investigates the interplay between realism and abstraction. He is both a photographer with a sculptor’s eye, and a sculptor with a photographer’s eye. His most recent works use these disciplines as a foundation for new large-scale photo-based charcoal drawings. Makepeace is a Washington, DC-based artist who received a BFA from Cornell University. He studied sculpture at the Corcoran School of Art and photography at the Smithsonian Institution, an d has exhibited widely.
Copyright © 2019 T. Makepeace - All Rights Reserved.