Monday, March 16, 2015

Mathematics as Abstract Text

Grids, octagons, X-Y-Z axes, coordinates, parabolas…mathematics are increasing these days in the studio.  Equations, formulas, letters and numbers have become part of the expression.  They accompany geometric shapes and represent an aesthetic relief.

"Let f = F", Gesso on Roofing Felt, 72" x 36", © 2015

In 1982 the third year faculty at the Corcoran College of Art + Design (Washington, DC) became aware of my job experience as a sign maker.  Since then there has been a push to incorporate text into my artwork.  I became very self-conscious about it…what to say?  In those days I took the sign influence into the direction of graffiti.

Washington, DC, Dupont Circle 1984  Photo Richard K. Thomas

As part of a retrospective exhibit in the early 2000’s I painted individual words in a frieze section of the gallery. The selection of words was rife with meaning and hanging my large scale abstract paintings below them created interesting contexts.  

Installation View, "Excerpts", Lees-McRae College, Banner Elk, NC  2007

But text was not integrated into the imagery.

My struggle was with words themselves.  They’re so descriptive that they guide viewers thinking, perception and meaning.  I've had no problem with this as far as titles go. But actually using them in the artwork has continued to make me feel self-conscious.  I’ve tried to use text as texture by burying them under layers of paint but without success.

Now it seems that the use of geometric shapes demands these equations to emphasize the depth of the subject. The math is specific without being literal.  It’s an abstract language.  

"Untitled Hypar", Gesso and graphite on primed matboard, © 2015 Collection Steve Nyland

As such, I enjoy incorporating it freely into these recent artworks.  Many formulas are too long to use but sections are fun to place into these compositions.  The complexity makes for rich content. 
Underpainting, Gesso on Roofing Felt, 2015

Using algebraic formulas touches on some difficult areas for me.  Algebra was incomprehensible when I was a high school freshman.  The basic concept of letters equaling “any number” was beyond me.  My dad taught math and science and worked with me to get a handle on it.  In spite of his tutoring it didn’t connect and was very frustrating!

I revisit these memories often as I continue this series of artwork.  It’s uncomfortable.   Algebra was my great academic melt down.  (Let’s not talk about Speech class.)  

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