There are moments in your life where you notice the tiniest things in nature; moments that change you in a way you can’t explain. One I can think of off the top of my head is when I found out what made these patterns in the sand when I was living in San Diego, California:
For 3 months I would walk along the beach, glazing over the distinct intertwining diamonds of black and white; not bothering to question what they were, just accepting them as part of my surroundings. It wasn’t until an ecology class I had that I figured out what was really going on… Crabs were doing it. Crabs? Whaddayameeaan?
Pacific mole crabs. The crabs were filter feeders – animals that sift food out of the water (like whales). They would plonk their bums in the sand when they saw a wave coming, stick their filamenty feelers and feet up into the air, and catch as many tiny plankton out of the water as they could. In this field of couch potato eaters, the water would hit them and swash outwards leaving a diamond shape of black top layer sand behind them. The result was beautiful. And it framed the entire beach line for kilometres.
We walk past patterns like these everyday, and rarely do we take note of what they mean. But when we do, it brings us closer to understanding something deeper about the world.
The painter and writer from San Francisco, Christopher Reiger, believes these intense moments of observation are a door to a more reverent connection to the world; a spiritual connection (and by ‘spiritual’ I mean immaterial – not ‘religious’). In a recent writing of his, ‘A Modern-Mystic Look at Animals’, Reiger says of science and spirituality:
Indeed, a complete appreciation of nature requires us to interweave cognition with imagination; specifically, we must ground ourselves in reality while remaining open to the mystical or immaterial.
Science is often looked at as a rigid study – lacking in beauty and stealing the mystery from the world. But if anything, it is moments like the ‘mole crab diamonds’ that shine light on the beautiful and open more mysterious pathways for us to explore and be present in our surroundings.
I believe that the two magisterial are separated not by a great wall, as so may insist, but by a permeable membrane. At points of contact, then, there is a bleeding of one realm into the other. My pictures are the observations of a naturalist working at this intersection.
A lot of Reiger’s paintings explore the human-animal relationship; perhaps in the face of other species we may see ourselves more vividly.
(Feature painting at the top: ‘Slow Motion, Falling Through the Ylem’ by Christopher Reiger, 2009: ‘Ylem’ is defined as: (In the Big Bang theory) the primordial (beginning) matter of the universe, originally conceived as composed of neutrons at high temperature and density (Oxford Dictionary). To me, this painting symbolises the animals arrival of existence from the dawn of time; a journey exaggerated by the lines of movement surrounding it.)
Christopher Reiger, ‘Oscillation Study (Anhinga)’ 2012: ‘Oscillation’ means to move back and forth in a rhythm around a central point. This piece explores physical forces in nature and how we move within them.
Christopher Reiger, ‘Breaking off and starting again, again’ 2009: this piece seems to explore ideas of our evolutionary history. How we are but a pawn in the force of evolution and nature. Our ancestors radiated sporadically to make us, birds and other vertebrates.
Christopher Reiger, ‘Then and then’ (San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat) 2012
Christopher Reiger, ‘A dumb reference, alive and outside of time’, 2010: to me, this artwork explores different levels of time on Earth. Here we are shown the geological facet where things move incredibly slowly and have histories that span millions of years. In comparison, the bird’s life is a fleeting moment; so is ours.
For more on Christopher Reiger take a look at his website here.