Jun 6, 2014
I describe my work as being created in and derived from a unique system of geometric meter. This is the meter of visual composition as opposed to the meter found in poetry although the formalising and ordering property is the same. This meter, derived from particular and distinct geometry, provides a grammar and the actual fabric of my visual language.
Compass and Rule
The rudimentary beginnings of my work were developed ten years ago, principally with a compass, rule and calculator. Motifs were developed out of simple geometric relationships, these being a visual, almost diagrammatic, expression of what I found geometrically pure and wondrously correct within the geometry itself. I don't claim these early investigations have any mathematical value, nor with the very first experiments any artistic merit. Yet through years of trial and error and a stubborn belief in this method as a pivotal means of creating art I formed the foundations of the work I continue today.
First Metered Experiments
In this my first experiment deriving art directly from geometry I was thinking about artistic language very formally and I hit on an idea of using geometry to structure and meter an experiment to generate a particular visual dynamic. Central to this dynamic was the problem of, how to describe spherical or ovoid form on a two-dimensional surface. This problem was of great significance to many artist in the past including Michelangelo and Cézanne and was a key force in the evolution of their painted and drawn languages. I was also interested in how the balance of an abstract image was affected when it was turned up side down. Or to put it enough way: how does the force of gravity effect the visual balance of nature and does this relate to the visual balance of an abstract image with no symbolic reference to an up or down? These very formal concerns combined with an intuitive affinity with geometry germinated the seeds for the work I am producing today.
First geometric study from Easter day 1995, originally pencil digitally recreated here in 2015
The most basic building blocks I use are the square and circle. From these elements the relationship of the squareroot of 2 to 1 can easily be derived in many ways. The resulting geometry is elaborated in search of a strong visual motif in accordance with a visual grammar. A grammar determined by geometric simplicity and homogenous interconnectedness with the initial study.
Plato described geometry as the purest philosophical language. My own experience of using geometry would also indicate that it is a powerful tool for exploring abstract thought. To me, the type of simple geometry I employ is like a very primitive language, and can be learnt and articulated intuitively. I’ve found on many occasions whilst developing new studies that I’ve known certain relationships exist before I can produce the drawings or maths to prove it.
Because the form of geometry I use is so elementary, the relationships and ideas it can express can also be elementary. I feel geometry can give form to concepts that do not readily have a powerful translation in words. This does not mean that geometry is a more powerful language than words. If this was the case, it would be our principle means of communication. Maybe however, working with and simply looking at geometry can possibly extend our range and mode of thinking.
I liken geometric 'meter' system I use to the structural conventions evolved and adhered to in musical composition. These conventions limit, define and order an abstract sound world into musical language. As with some musical language my visual language is shaped by the concerns of harmony, dynamics, rhythm, lyricism and counterpoint. I find music, and musical terminology an invaluable resource in describing my work and in finding tangible ideas for invention within geometric art.
J. S. Bach is my biggest inspiration and resource. In many ways I have sort to find a visual equivalent to the metered structures in baroque music within this work. I often think about the use of harmonic scales, tempo, harmonies, canons and so on in forming the formal structures in my work. Combining and varying the geometric equivalents to these musical stuctures has produced the level of variety and complexity I employ in my work today.
Pythagoras discovered the connection between musical harmonics and mathematics and it was universally believed until that time that there was no connection between the science of nature and numbers. Mathematics in ancient Greek times was a purely philosophical discipline. In fact it was also Pythagoras who was also believed to have invented the term philosophy. Mathematics today seems to creep into just about all subjects including art.
Feb 6, 2008
Carlos Primo is a Spanish art critic who has written for a number of noteworthy Spanish publications. Carlos interviewed me over email in 2008.
CP – How did you get to create works with a mathematical basis and inspiration? have you ever been accused of doing “cold” art?
The geometry in my work is not there as an underlying structure which organises an additional independent artistic language, but it is the very fabric of the work. The choice to derive the work using specific families of geometric relationships has to do with limiting my options. This is limiting my options in terms of where and how I can create one element relative to another and relative to the entire work. In poetry and music, we call this ‘meter’. Meter in art is as old as art itself. Actually all artist’s subconsciously and consciously create meter in their work. It is what determines the style of one artist compared to another. For instance, Picasso, when he was young, limited his palette to predominantly blue hues. There was much more to his output at this time than just this, but as a simple example this stylistic limitation, or meter, as I call it, gave the young Picasso the artistic freedom to express something very precisely. I believe limitation is just a necessary condition of creative expression and it’s the invention and variety that is found by the artist within the limits that gives an expression power. Of course, this again is nothing new. The ancient Greeks talked about it in terms of ‘variety within unity’. From Zen we have ‘All in One: One in All’, in Zen however, the whole of reality is like this, not just art.
CP – You work with geometrical figures, but what are your other aesthetic (or ethic, maybe spiritual) influences and inspirations? because your images are complex and interesting, but also so beautiful…
I think our interests and personalities inevitably find a way into all our creative work and activities. In my case I have broad interests in many things, such as technology, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and, of course, all areas of art and design. Perhaps what influences my work the most, however, is my practice of Zazen. This is Zen sitting meditation. Through this practise I am learning to breath with my eyeballs and see with the pit of my belly. This is the most important skill for any artist. Without this, an artist can not make one original mark.
CP – Why so many black and white images? something to do with minimalism?
My use of a grayscale palette is again about limitation – ‘meter’. Actually, for the first few years that I was developed the Root2Art canon of work, I only used three tones: white, black and a mid grey. A large majority of my more recent work only uses 5 or 7 tones. Sometimes, when I am struggling to resolve a piece of work I use colour, but once I become clear about how I want the structure to work, then I will be able to define the piece in monochrome. Introducing colour to my work would be like playing a piece of music composed for solo piano, with an entire orchestra. The Orchestra would bring with it a certain richness and complexity, but more often than not at the cost of structural clarity. For me, it is about revealing precisely and clearly the compositional invention of a work. I think this is best done without the distraction of colour. We can reduce colour to a tonal monochrome structure, but not vice versa. I remember clearly, over ten years ago, looking at a pebble on a beach and thinking – “How can I create anything that adds something to the infinite complexity and richness of nature. Even on the surface of this simple pebble is a beautifully subtle texture and an infinite variety of colour. If I am to make anything that is a genuine contribution to the visual diversity of the world, then it would be futile to try and beat nature at its own game. “Using a limited monochrome palette and eliminating all texture is therefore also about removing the more sensual aspects of art, simply because this is something that can always be found in boundless abundance in nature. As for minimalism I don’t know what minimalism is! Isms are really just the creation of the art theorist and historian. When we place a piece of art into a category we become partially blind to it. If we think we understand what a piece of art is, then we’ve already lost sight of it. Me, here today, talking about my own work is also like this. I am much worse than any art historian. People whose job it is to talk about art don’t know any better…LOL.
CP – You have worked in projects that are nearer to design (e.g. the greenhouse) Are you interested in the relationship between art and daily life?
When I make art then this is my daily life. When I am designing greenhouses, fixing the car, cooking dinner, talking with friends or playing with the kids, none of these activities produce or require a state of mind different from that when making art. When I am fully concentrated on what I am doing then that activity becomes a creative activity. Creativity is not something I draw from a certain place and wilfully apply to making a work of art or solving a design problem. As I see it, creative problem solving is about seeing a problem clearly and completely. Since when we look at any situation with our whole body and our whole mind, when we are fully present, then we see that every situation is unique and unique appropriate responses and solutions naturally arise. If we are fully present in daily life, then we will naturally find the ability to express ourselves creatively in all our daily activities. Yes, this can be the case, even when going to the lavatory…LOL
CP – Do you consider yourself a successful artist?
Hmm, how do we gauge it? In conventional terms my ‘career’ as an artist is pretty woeful. In over 15 years I’ve never made a dollar from it and I am still an unknown entity within the wider (offline) Art World. My exposure on the net is steady, but I’m unsure how a large percentage of this traffic is responding to my work.
Its funny, occasionally I’ll get an email from a student asking how I became a successful digital artist? Some people assume from looking through my site that I must make a good living from it. So in conventional terms I have managed through my website to at least, create the impression of success…LOL. Very funny, because to pay the bills, I clean industrial cooling towers, which is physically tough, wet and filthy work. It is one of the least glamorous jobs you could hope for. I have learned this much in my life so far: if we place importance on abstract notions of success, then we will also place importance on the perceived absence of success. Both success and failure are both an illusion. The life of a man who thinks he is ‘successful’ is not always happy, and the life of a man who thinks he is a ‘failure’ is not always sad. The life of a man who sees no reality in success or failure is beyond disturbance…LOL