The view that images have a life of their own is a well-known vitalist projection (Hans Belting, WJT Mitchell). I extend the trope of the living painting to a systemic order of aliveness, one that emphasises painting’s becoming within a vital open system through Beth Dempster’s (2000) concept of sympoiesis. With that in mind I ask: ‘How might the metaphor of the poietic work extend to that of the living planet?’ My conceptualisation of sympoietic painting makes a case for the saving of image life and planetary life by entwining the affective and sensible. I explore how vital formations that arise by way of webs and affinities fit into a sympoietic system of understanding artistic creation and are a powerful form of nonhuman address.
Throughout the paper, I describe works from my Open Studio shown at the Queensland Art Gallery (10 October 2020 – 31 January 2021). The project presented a replication of my studio, expanded paintings and a curated exhibition of works from the institution’s collection, and hosted socially engaged events. Together they provided insight into my creative practice through structural and elective affinities. By working with affinities, I make affinelike formations that are enlivened through different painterly processes. In this paper I show how affinities are fundamental to sympoietic painting, and by evoking transformation and liveliness remind us that many species also form a fabric, one now contingent on a key human thread. I argue that affinities create bonds and relations that connect us to the sensing world and, by extension, sensible solutions.