Circles are common in our world, and perhaps
because of their universality, have become symbolically important in
human life and history. Circles symbolize continuity, commitment,
order, stability, and strength – a broken circle, perhaps even more
powerfully, symbolizes disruption, broken promises, disorder,
instability and weakness. Circles occur regularly in nature, from the
ripples in a pond, to the shape of our eyes – the mirror of our souls
- and when the expectation of a circle is violated (as in a cat’s
eyes), evil is frequently ascribed. But more often than not, the
circle in nature is, in fact, our mind’s interpretation of a sphere.
We “see” the moon as a disc, not as a sphere.
We can define a circle – it’s circumference, diameter and volume can
be calculated, tangents and arcs created, and intersections predicted.
We can mathematically create a perfect circle, a form which is not
often found in nature. From circles we can create spheres, we can
calculate distances, longitudes and latitudes on our sphere. Using the
same mathematical principles, we can predict the trajectory of a
bullet or rocket, navigate not only the earth but also the universe,
and better understand our universe.
In our quest to understand our world and our surroundings, we
categorize, define, separate, combine, mathematically model, and
invoke deities, spirits, and magic. We also create boundaries, to
limit the unknowable, the incomprehensible; to contain the known, and
to exclude the unknown. Circles are symbolic of such a boundary, and
perhaps that is why circles are so prominent in religion and
mysticism. It is that symbolism, and the mystery and mysticism of
circles that have inspired these paintings
Circles contain their own universe
Circles protect what lies within them; they keep out the world
external to them.
When does a two-dimensional circle transition to a representation of a
How does our mind make that transition?
If we move a circle, or if a circle moves, what happens to the space
contained within it? Does it move also, or is it replaced by another
universe? Does the answer depend upon whether the circle is, in fact,
a two dimensional sphere?
Is the space within a circle a negative space – or is it only negative
if there was nothing there before the circle was formed? (If a circle
is drawn on blank white paper, does the formation of the circle change
the space within it simply by defining it?)
These paintings address some of these questions and issues, and
hopefully in the mind of the viewer, raise still more.
Dennis Smith 2003
Please click on picture for enlarged view