Making the invisible visible


Dear Artist,

”To sense the invisible and to be able to create it,” wrote Hans Hofmann, “that is art.” An English clergyman wrote a letter 235 years ago proposing the idea of a giant but invisible star so massive that it swallowed its own light. Based on his calculations, this body could be detected by its gravitational effect on surrounding objects. In 1915, 114 years later, Albert Einstein was developing his theory of general relativity, building upon his already proven theories about gravity’s influence on the motion of light. Then, in the 1950s, astronomers with radio telescopes noticed that seemingly peaceful galaxies were emitting disproportionate amounts of energy from their cores. Developing detailed models of how this was happening, scientists constructed an understanding of our universe based on scientific and mathematical data and calculations. The existence of this hidden reality was all but theoretical until this week, when the first photograph of a black hole was published.

Bridge Between Galaxies, 2017 18x24 inches oil on aluminum composite by Bryan Larson

Bridge Between Galaxies, 2017
18×24 inches
oil on aluminum composite
by Bryan Larsen

A galaxy called Messier 87, 55 million light-years away, in the constellation of Virgo, is seen in the image as a fiery orange light circling a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun. Einstein was disturbed by his calculations when they proposed that matter collected in a quantity too high would overwhelm the force of gravity and turn on itself, bringing space and time to an end. The project Event Horizon, named for the point of no return at the swirling edge of a black hole, comprises 200 scientists on eight telescopes, and they have now proven — with a picture — the reality of Einstein’s vision. Harvard historian and physicist Peter Galison gushed at the “wonderful, open-ended sense of being able to see something.”

Like the Catholic Church enlisting artists to produce images of Jesus to guide an illiterate population in the 6th Century, pictures are still instrumental in communicating ideas. “Art,” said Edgar Degas, “is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Reading By Moonlight 1, 2018 Oil on Aluminum Composite Panel 48x24 inches by Bryan Larson

Reading By Moonlight 1, 2018
Oil on Aluminum Composite Panel
48×24 inches
by Bryan Larsen



PS: “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” (Jonathan Swift)

Esoterica: Six years ago, when she was a graduate student at MIT, Katie Bouman began working on an algorithm to crunch through the visual data, measurements and atmospheric disturbances that were being collected by the Event Horizon Telescope project — the worldwide collaboration of astronomers, engineers and mathematicians attempting to picture a black hole by way of radio waves. As part of the Event Horizon team, the now 29-year-old post-doctorial researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was at the heart of stitching together the information that made the image possible. “I have an interest in how we see things or measure things that are thought to be invisible to us, and how can we come up with unique ways to merge the instrumentation and algorithms to get at measuring things that you can’t measure with standard instruments.” (Scientist Katie Bouman)


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)