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Fluidism - Robert Kernodle's Fluid Dynamic Painting

Updated on November 5, 2009
COSMOSIS, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
COSMOSIS, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
AQUATHERIAL, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
AQUATHERIAL, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
SPHERES EN L'AIR, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
SPHERES EN L'AIR, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
ORCHID OF OSIRIS, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
ORCHID OF OSIRIS, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
OCEAN OF DREAMS, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting
OCEAN OF DREAMS, Robert Kernodle, fluidism original painting

The Evolution Of Fluidism: From Dry Paint Substrate To Dynamic Paint Photography

Robert Kernodle

“Fluidism” conventionally refers to the ancient Greek theory of body humors. I extend this word’s definition to mean “the art of manipulating fluid flow”. “Fluidism”, as I use the word, refers to a style of fine art painting and to a closely related style of fine art photography.

The Basic Idea

Static, dry paint has a property of imprinting fluid patterns in an original substrate (the actual paint). Here the original, dry substrate becomes a lasting, fine-art artifact (a painting). By comparison, dynamic wet paint has a property of forming extremely delicate fluid patterns that either disappear upon drying or dissipate before drying. Here the original artifact (original painting) cannot persist – the only lasting artifact is a photograph. In both cases, original paintings exist – in one case as finished objects, in the other case as ongoing actions. Photography enables me to expand the range of fluidism from actual painted artworks to virtual painted artworks that otherwise could not hang on a wall.

It All Started With An Accident

I first realized fluidism in the year 2000, while judging two colors of art acrylics on a small piece of cardboard. I accidentally dropped the cardboard into my kitchen sink, causing it to hit on its edge and collide the two paint masses into one another. The resulting patterns inspired me to crash together masses of art acrylics on purpose.

I experimented. I persisted through trial and error. I observed and refined my efforts using intuition. Small test paintings led to slightly larger paintings, which led to increasingly larger paintings, up to the point where I reached the limit of my physical ability to manipulate the required surface vigorously enough. This occurred at dimensions, 40 x 60 inches.

On smaller paintings, I used only rectangular pieces of archival paperboard as supports. I shook and banged these boards on their edges (against harder surfaces) to collide and distribute different colored pools of paint. These smaller boards took a beating, as edges sometimes deformed from the intensity of impacts. I realized that intact edges and cleaner boundaries required taping the paperboard to a sturdy, thin box. In this manner, I could almost destroy the supporting box, while preserving the integrity of the painting’s ground. I also learned that the painting would dry into a flatter panel, if tape secured it along all edges. Another advantage of taping was that I could soak the board with fluid media and still achieve a flat, dry finished painting.

Tweaking The Process

Fully securing the painting’s ground (paperboard) to a box that I could pick up and manipulate gave me a better grip and more freedom to move the surface through any angle I wished. At this point, my method consisted of saturating paperboard with flow-enhancing medium until it held a thin, liquid film over its entire surface. This liquid film served as the canvas on which I poured and dropped colored paints, which I then collided together by means of oscillating the whole platform (by hand) in the manner of a wobbling hubcap.

During this phase of fluidism, I consistently observed amazing patterns that dissipated before paint reached dry equilibrium. I never captured what I considered the most beautiful paintings, because these paintings were unstable, transient events in dynamic flow. I also noticed something else: The most fascinating qualities of certain patterns depend on total wetness – drying destroys these qualities. This became particularly apparent when I observed fluid masses close up with a magnifying glass. During any given session, I came to understand that more than one painting passed before my eyes. In fact, the dry, finished painting was, as Picasso suggested, the dead painting. I came to understand the word, “painting”, as more of an action than an object, as more of a progressive verb than a static noun. Not being able to freeze any pattern I saw (before it dried) frustrated me at times.

Stopping The Unstoppable

While I appreciated original paintings that I made under the name of fluidism, I aspired to capture the elusive patterns of continuous fluid flow. Photography enabled me to make such captures. Using a camera, I reinvented fluidism as a photographic style, learning the particulars of exposure, focal length, depth of field, quality of light and other elements required to make acceptable images. I had to discover a basic method, using limited equipment and minimal props. I found my new configuration in a set up consisting of: a white mixing bowl, old cooking pot, small cutting board, washcloth, food wrapper clamp, and a broken window fan that I used as a thin table top. For illumination, I used natural sunlight. My camera was a 35mm, single-lens, reflex film camera, which I used with a tripod to imprint short-lived fluid patterns on color slide film.

My world of paint materials expanded from only the best artist’s acrylics to other fluids as well, including: plain distilled water, ordinary cooking oil, egg whites, oil paint, glycerin, and laundry starch, mixed in varying combinations on different occasions.

While my range of discovery grew, my field of view shrank – I had entered the world of macro photography, where my paintings became not only fleeting but also miniature. Was I even painting anymore? Was I the painter? Or was the painting painting itself?

Deep Questions Get Answered

I concluded that photographic fluidism is no less an act of painting than paint-substrate fluidism. In either case, I handled a configuration of painting materials that I nudged into pleasing compositions. In one instance, the original substrate held patterns long term. In another instance, a secondary substrate performed this function, because the original substrate could not.

The laws of physics forbid some fluid patterns from drying. These patterns emerge and retreat faster than the process of drying can capture them. A camera offers a method of virtual drying to overcome nature’s elusiveness here.

An intriguing idea now surfaces: What seems like an instant to human perception must be centuries old for an atom, whose speed in the subatomic realm makes it exist lifetimes in the blink of an eye. Who can say, then, that the briefest of my fluidism paintings is not everlasting on some scale? The concept of duration is relative. On an atomic scale, even the most fleeting painting is an age-old classic. On a cosmic scale, the Mona Lisa is a mere flicker in eternity.

My fluidism odyssey thereby lands me in philosophical and cosmological territory. Heavily influenced by the ideas of Gerald Leau and Joel D. Morrison, I have come upon the most profound truth – that reality itself is a grand fluid, forever painting designs that appear ephemeral on one scale while simultaneously appearing eternal on another scale, ultimately unstoppable in a universe with no absolute beginning or end.


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    • Robert Kernodle profile image

      Robert Kernodle 6 years ago

      Glad you like them.


    • brennawelker profile image

      brennawelker 6 years ago

      Great information! The paintings are really gorgeous.