Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
Painting As Art    | HISTORY Page | Obituary Page |

Thoughts on Filling Space
     D.O.U.S.S and Unicursal Lifeline


I like your remark about them appearing "confident". In a sense, they ought to exude a sense of "completeness" in that they are logical structures—a solution to a problem created within certain parameters: their creation is the result of "rules" being laid down (arbitrarily, intuitively in the first promptings).

But once those rules have been defined, then a system has been started and the work follows "logically" from the extension of that system, and any problems that arise in carrying out the system must be solved in the context created, so that the image is consistent, logically and visually, and has a certain in-built sense of completeness although it is merely one aspect or expression of the system.

D.O.U.S.S. by Harry Turner

D.O.U.S.S. (1972)

The large D.O.U.S.S. is a precursor of Unicursal Lifeline—they both are sparked by the same basic idea, and then other ideas which were aroused in painting D.O.U.S.S. were carried on into UL.

The basic idea started off at Open University Summer School at Durham in 1972—one of those sunny, hot weeks that are both relaxing and stimulating. One of the happiest times I can recall in the past few years when I felt free, able to work hard on something I was interested in.

I could relax the way I like (sunbathing), enjoy the Gulbenkian art gallery (just across the road), particularly an exhibition of Tao art from China, get into conversation with a wandering American and spend all afternoon talking about art in other cultures, traces of abstraction in past cultures, in a way that time stood still... And I had a "cell" bedroom to retreat to and gaze over the green landscape through the open window and work out all sorts of ideas.

And the ideas just flowed and flowed, and generated other ideas, and I discovered the "space-filling curve"—a line joining all points within an area or solid—that is infinite in length in that there are an infinite number of points in an area and is, paradoxically, an impossibility because a point is dimensionless. One of those mathematical concepts not to be taken too seriously because it is based on definitions and their manipulation in an abstract way but interesting for the things that can be done with it.

I wanted to show it visually in some way, say the start of the curve before it began to fill up the area completely. At the Tao exhibition, there were some prints of Taoist calligraphy, based on the rising streams and whorls of smoke from ritual incense burners (I ordered some prints for reference). I followed some textbook diagrams, making a square grid and connecting up the centres in such a way that units could be systematically linked and extended in certain ways and directions indefinitely.

And that was how DOUSS came into being.

It starts at one corner and travels tortuously over the canvas to end up in the opposite corner. The "points" became circles; the "curve" wrapped itself round them and linked up continously with other circles. So wherever the eye dropped on the picture, it was carried along the line restlessly, with calculated optical colour changes to be experienced en route so that the picture surface became a restless path for the eye, with constant colour distraction to stop the eye from stopping at any one spot. Nothing startlingly new there, but novel in some ways.

And then I wanted to do a self-contained version, a "loop" line that had no end and yet was not obviously [closed]. ■

Unicursal Life-Line by Harry Turner
Unicursal Lifeline (1972)

thoughts about D.O.U.S.S. and Unicursal Lifeline, 1980s

to page top© RFV&SDS, MM12.email address to contact