66″ x 60″     24,857 brushstrokes     2010

Ants, Breadcrumbs, Stigmergy, Subsumptive Architecture and

Complex Adaptive System Simulations

Kirby’s initial impulse for this painting was to create an edgy, dark, intense experience. Swirling energy passing destructively through “pickup sticks” provided the initial imaginative spark.  And he wanted to continue evolving the complex adaptive behavior of the ants used in previous paintings and move them out of their 2D environment into a 3D world, an evolution akin to the ways Renaissance painters looked at perspective and made depth in their field.


A scaled, clay model helped with the initial positioning for some of the uprights in the painting. Other timbers Kirby added stochastically, until the final composition emerged.


The foggy, misty sky and atmosphere using dark, ominous colors and lighting, called sfumato, comes from the realm of Renaissance techniques.


For the swirling energy at the center of the painting, Kirby wanted three-dimensional helical splines inside the mathematical cube. Next, Kirby inserted breadcrumbs in the cube along these spline lines for the ants to discover. Then he randomly dropped a colony of 10,000 ants in and allowed them to wander around three-dimensionally in this virtual world. When an ant discovered a bread crumb, it would deposit a pebble. To speed up the simulation of the ants’ work efforts, pheromones were added, an element which left a chemical trail, but which also decayed with time. Later, pebbles were collected and converted into brush strokes representing swirling flashes of energy.


The painting elicits emotion in the viewer and leaves a lingering trail of questions to keep the viewer engaged.



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