“Perception” ROBERT PEPPERELL             MAR 08

Central to his work is an investigation of the nature of perceptual consciousness, carried out through both philosophical inquiry and the practice of painting and drawing — topics on which he lectures internationally.


ROBERT PEPPERELL

Born in London in 1963, Robert Pepperell studied Newport School of Art and then at the Slade School of Art. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s he exhibited numerous electronic and interactive art works, including at Arts Electronica in Austria, the Barbican Gallery in London, Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Millennium Dome.


As part of an extensive collaboration with DJ-pioneers Coldcut under the name Hex, he produced a series of influential multimedia projects, interactive CD-Roms, computer games, and performed across the world as a VJ, mixing live audio and video using laptops and decks. 


He has published several books, including The Posthuman Condition (1995 and 2003). The Postdigital Membrane (2000 with Michael Punt), and Screen Consciousness (2006, with Michael Punt) as well as many articles, reviews and academic papers. He is currently Reader in Fine Art and Head of Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art & Design and is an associate editor with Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for Arts, Technology and Science.


Pepperell’s paintings and drawings are the result of intensive experimentation in materials and methods designed to evoke a very specific, though elusive, state of mind. The works induce a disrupted perceptual condition in which what we see cannot be matched with what we know. Instead of a recognisable depiction the viewer is presented with — what the art historian Dario Gamboni has called — a ‘potential image’, that is, a complex multiplicity of possible images, none of which ever finally resolves.


Engaging in an ongoing dialogue with art of the past, particularly the Baroque and early Cubism, the works on canvas, panel and paper weave a complex web of impossible and contradictory passages suggesting erotic or heroic dramas with both bestial and transcendent overtones. The images, when seen in real life, are compelling and often disturbing despite the traditional aesthetic framework they occupy.


Pepperell’s paintings form part of a wider philosophical challenge to a western metaphysics that has dominated our thinking on key philosophical problems but which he argues is now subject to fundamental revision because of new ideas emerging in the sciences and humanities. For example, we have to abandon the notion that anything has a beginning, or end; we have to recognise there are no objects in the world; we must discard the division between the mind and world (while simultaneously acknowledging it); we must accept that it is in the mind where all qualities and properties exist while also recognizing that the mind is in the world.


By adopting some of the primary visual languages of western metaphysics (baroque, romantic and rococo painting) to generate images that are both visceral and spiritual, and in which objects are both present and absent, he asks the viewer to perceive the world as essentially contradictory and indeterminate. This is in opposition to the dominant western tradition, sustained by the ethos of empiricist science, which holds that reality is rational and deterministic.


Despite his scepticism about the scientific ethos, Pepperell’s work has recently been the subject of a number of scientific investigations by laboratories in vision and brain research at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany. Samples of Pepperell’s paintings were tested against a sample of art historical works, and audience responses to certain perceptual tasks were measured. A number of significant findings emerged, which have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.


Following the success of its public workshop Science in the Dock, Art in the Stocks: Convex/Concave, Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, is organising a further event in its ‘Stocks and Docks’ series.




Artist Rob Pepperell, whose paintings are currently on show at the gallery, will visit the exhibition in person to discuss his work on Friday, 28 March at 6.30pm.


“Central to Rob’s work is an investigation of the nature of perceptual consciousness,” says gallery owner Cristina Burke-Trees. “His paintings are designed to evoke a very specific, though elusive, state of mind. Instead of a recognisable depiction the viewer is presented with a ‘potential image’, that is, a complex multiplicity of possible images, none of which ever finally resolves.”


“With ‘Science in the Dock’ we aimed to bring together artists and scientists to share ideas about vision and perception,” says Egenis co-director Professor Steve Hughes. “Rob’s work examines precisely these ideas, as it induces a disrupted perceptual condition in which what we see cannot be matched with what we know.”


                                    Claire Pacman - Egenis


“Succulus” Oil on Canvas

“Paradox” Oil on Canvas