Curator’s pick: Chris Drury’s Edge of Chaos (1999)

Steve Marshall, curator of the Infinite Beauty exhibition at The Gallery at The Arc, Winchester, shares the fascinating research and artistic process behind the making of one of the key works in this intriguing exhibition.

Chris Drury’s Edge of Chaos (1999) is the largest work in Infinite Beauty and along with Richard Long’s Guitars, Cadillacs (2014), which can be seen on the wall opposite, forms the backbone of the exhibition, anchoring the other exhibits. Edge of Chaos is a seminal Drury work that emerged from a growing interest in chaos theory. At nearly five metres wide, it is an imposing piece, but not in a brash, ‘in your face’ way, rather it catches the attention and draws you in...

Edge of Chaos works on two levels. Seen from a distance the viewer is struck by the patterns in its two halves, but on closer investigation these are revealed to be made up of tiny lines of text swirling across the surface of the picture.

Chris Drury (b.1948), Edge of Chaos, Ink cap spore splurge and handwritten words in ink on canvas- backed paper impregnated with peat and ink, 1999, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist.

The work grew from an interest in theoretical physics, but one that was filtered through Drury’s regard for Zen Bhuddism. He was struck by the idea that we see a wave as a movement, but that it is also composed of an unimaginable number of individual particles. This was Drury’s introduction to chaos and complexity theory: "The idea is that as things become more complex, instead of descending into chaos, they start to form coherent patterns, which is how we get such incredible biodiversity within natural systems on the planet, in a dynamic shifting balance."

Chris Drury. Photo Nicholas Sinclair 2000. Image courtesy of the artist.

The flowing lines of words list the names of winds from different cultures around the world, ranging from the gentle zephyr to the destructive hurricane. On the right, the pattern comes from the grain of a redwood tree trunk, found washed up on the Californian coast. Fittingly the words here list the names of ocean currents from across the globe. One pattern suggests blood flow the other the movement of sap. By combining these words and shapes, Drury expresses a sense of wonder that such patterns can be found on a tiny scale in the human heart or the grain of a tree trunk but also in world-spanning weather systems and water movements.

Chris Drury (b.1948), Wind Vortex - Sky Blu, Antarctica, Inkjet print, 2007 Private Collection, image courtesy of the artist.

Infinite Beauty also features two additional works by Chris Drury: Poison Pie (2000) and Wind Vortex – Sky Blue, Antarctica. The latter is an incredible photograph, a result of Drury’s work during his residency at the British Antarctic Survey. As exhibition curator Steve Marshall describes, “Part of his time was spent at Sky Blu, a base and runway on the inland ice fields, where nearby Nunataks (mountain tips protruding through the ice) create wind vortices. Drury made a drawing of a vortex and then, using GPS and a skidoo, recreated it on a huge scale (3km long). He then climbed a Nunatak to take the photograph.”

There is much more to discover with this work and others by Drury. Join the artist himself at The Arc on 3 November for Edge of Chaos to hear more.


More Infinite Beauty-inspired events coming up at The Arc, Winchester:

Lorna Carmen McNeill: Mark Making with the Land, 5, 12, 19 November 2022

John Grande: The Ley of Land Art, 10 November 2022

Sir Peter Murray CBE: Sculpture, Space and Landscape, 12 November 2022

Infinite Beauty is open at The Gallery, The Arc, Winchester, until 16 November 2022. Make sure not to miss the incredible installation and exhibition, HEARTH, by Suna Imre, in the City Space gallery and atrium.


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Hampshire Cultural Trust

From museums to galleries to arts centres, we manage and support 23 attractions across the county, welcoming over 740,000 people each year. Our charitable purpose is changing lives through culture.
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