The Beautiful Brain: The drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

The Grey Art Gallery at NYU is currently presenting the scientific drawings of Spanish neuro-scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Created at the end of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th century the accuracy of these drawings are unsurpassed . These images are still used for scientific purposes.
This example is a pen and ink drawing of a Purkinje neuron from the human cerebellum from 1899 shows the scientist’s skills as a draftsman. These works were all done freehand looking through a microscope there is a more to these pieces than just research. Ramón y Cajal had an artistic sense of line and pattern.
This next drawing depicts a cut nerve outside the spinal cord from 1913. I think this work is a excellent representation of the contrast between an ordered system and chaos. The lines used to show axons in the center take on an almost lyrical sense of disorder.
This exhibition could be seen more as a Science/Art show then a Math/Art show. I feel however that the neurological systems examined in Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s work possess mathematical themes, including set theory. It is an exquisite exhibition and one of the best examples I have seen of scientific research in which the final product is Art that can be appreciated on it’s own merits. Special Thanks to Elizabeth Whiteley who sent me the info. If you can not see the show in NYC it will be on display at MIT in May
Susan Happersett
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Mark Reynolds at Pierogi Gallery

Mark Reynolds creates complex drawings of intense networks of geometric grids. The exhibition provides the public with some some sketches and studies to reveal some of the artist’s processes.
There are two different ways Reynold’s starts his patterns. One of the techniques utilizes historic images. This vitrine contained a small reproduction of a Botticelli painting with a sheet of tracing paper on which a series of guide lines have been drafted. There is also a notebook with a studies for the drawings that are based completely on Mathematical phenomena.
The drawing “Double Phi Series, Ideal Mathematical Space 23,11,16”, from 2016 employs both linear and curvilinear grids to fill the plane. This particular piece is more orderly then some of the other drawings at first glance it seems as though there might be two axises of reflective symmetry, but on closer inspection the two points on either side from which a series of rays emanates are not in the center of the side. There is only a vertical line of mirror symmetry.
“Square Series: Generation of the Harmonic Mean, 3-4-6, 11-29-12, from 2012 presents two opposing ideas. The sequence of rotating squares provides well ordered geometric shapes while the underlying cacophony of line work gives the feeling of disorder.
The detailed and precise complexity of the many layers of grids within Mark Reynold’s work unveil the order within chaotic patterning.
Susan Happersett

Cristina Camacho at Praxis

Using a process of making precise cuts through canvas Cristina Camacho creates a very unique type of dimensionality to straight edge drawing.
This example is based on a line drawing of an irregular pentagon with a vertical line of reflective symmetry. A series of lines have been drawn emanating from the two upper corners of the form featuring the same reflective symmetry. The top layer of canvas has been sliced in parallel line segments allowing the fabric to hang and drape off the 2-D plane.
The underlining canvas has a series of bars parallel to the top two sides of the pentagon cut completely away. This creates both positive and negative space as well as a shadow box effect.
What I find so interesting about this work is the way the shadows and especially the hanging drape of canvas make us look at a flat geometric figure in a very different way. The sculptural quality has been augmented by the obvious presence of light and gravity which play an important role in the transition from 2 to 3 dimensions.
Susan Happersett

Kantha Recycled and Embroidered Textiles at the Mingei International Museum

While I was in San Diego for JMM, I went to Balboa Park to visit the Mingei Museum. The museum is currently presenting a beautiful exhibit of vintage kantha, embroidered textiles from Bengal.
I was taken by the interesting uses of symmetry in some of the work.

Baytan Kantha – late 19th or early 20th century – Bengal

This particular Baytan Kantha is from the late 19th or early 20th century. It features lotus flower and star patterns. All of these from possess order-8 rotational symmetry if you disregard coloring. The corner lotuses and the stars have order-4 rotational symmetry when color is taken into account. Although lotuses  and stars are very traditional forms of patterning, to me this textile has a very modern abstract quality.
Susan Happersett

JMM 2018 San Diego – Art Exhibit

Happy New Year!
It is Januar and  that means it is time for the Joint Mathematics Meeting. This year the conference was held at the San Diego convention center and had an attendance of over 5000 participants. The JMM Art Exhibition is always a great way for me to start of the year. There is always a very diverse selection of art on display, featuring many different themes, techniques, and materials. I was not disappointed this year. I will only be able to mention a sampling of the of the great work…but here are a few of my favorites.

James Stasiak – “into the sun” – 38 x 50 cm – Archival glicée print – 2017

Photographer James Stasiak’s print “into the sun” transforms an original photograph into a mandala type abstraction through the use mathematical manipulation. Photo editing software allows Stasiak to carry out his prescribed sequence of rotations and reflections to create symmetrical properties. The result is a dense web of color that draw the viewers eye into the center of the print.

Yvette Kaiser Smith – Excerpts from pi (187-210) (554-580) (685-711)
29 x 45 x 5 cm – Laser-cut acrylic sheet, nylon spacers, capped hardware. Three panels: clear with green edge, 31% light transmission white, and fluorescent green. – 2016

Yvette Kaiser Smith has created a language of shapes to represent digits and then laser-cuts these shapes into colored transparent acrylic sheets. The sequence of these shapes is based on the sequence of particular sets of digits found within the irrational numbers e and pi. Irrational numbers are numbers that cannot be written as a fraction and have never ending, non repeating decimal representation. The work in the exhibit “Excerpts from pi (187-210) (554-580) (685-711)” features three panels The top panel shows the 187th to the 210th digit in the number pi. By layering the panels of different colors with space between them Smith has created a complex arrangement of shape light and color. The irrational numbers and especially pi have a type of mysterious reputation and a history of human fascination. This sculpture examines the number at it’s most finite level and then through technique and material expresses the beauty within.
Susan Happersett

My Artist’s Statement in the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts

The current (December 2017) issue of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (JMA) is introducing a new feature, highlighting individual artists through their statements. The fist artist covered is yours truly.

Publisher Taylor & Francis is making the article available to everyone. You can read it here. The accompanying picture is also on the cover of JMA this issue.

Happy Holidays!


Kelsey Brookes at the Jacob Lewis Gallery

Kelsey Brookes current solo exhibition at the Jacob Lewis gallery is titled ” The Mathematics Underlying Art”. I was so happy to see that the Fibonacci Sequence is a major theme for these large scale paintings. Each square canvas is divided into thirteen (13 is a Fibonacci Number) wedges radiating from the center point. Then dots are made along each dividing line at intervals that correspond to the Fibonacci Sequence.

”1.618 ( Golden Ratio) Indigo”, 2017

An intricate concentric pattern is painted around each dot, filling the surface.  The waves and undulations in this detailed work allude to the fact that Brookes is also microbiologist.

”1.618 ( Golden Ratio) Indigo”, 2017 (detail)

There are two sets of systems at work in this series. There is the overall predetermined structure, which features order 13 rotational symmetry and the uses the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio to place each circle. Within this architecture,when you look more closely at the paintings you see the freer, expressive style . The mathematical structure creates a sense of order to contain the movement of the patterns.

“1.618 (Golden ratio) Red” 2017

Susan Happersett

Rita McBride at Dia:Chelsea

“Particulates” is Rita MacBride’s new site-specific installation commissioned by Dia for their Chelsea location. McBride has used industrial high-intensity light to define the space formed by a hyperbola rotated around an axis.
The bright green laser beams create the lines for this 3-D drawing. The atmospheric properties of the airflow in the gallery create a sense of motion. Dust and other particulates are caught in the blast of lasers and become dancing reflections of light. This results in an otherworldly experience for the viewer.
Susan Happersett

Eva Mantell: Finding Structural Beauty in the Ephemeral

by Sarah Stengle

Artist Eva Mantell applies meticulous attention to materials that are on the verge of being discarded. The resulting artwork is complex, highly ordered and the humble materials are lent a poetic weightlessness. The organizing principles that generate her constructs are deceptively simple. She sets rules or parameters, which when followed or repeated, produce complex results. Her studio production is process-driven in that the final result is not known at the start, but rather produced by intuitively following the simple rules she sets out for herself.

Turing Patterns taken from David A. Young’s Article, A local Activator-Inhibitor Model of Vertebrate Skin Patterns, Mathematical Biosciences, Volume 72 issue 1, November 1984, page 51.

She likened her approach to art to Alan Turing’s approach to understanding the morphogenesis of flowers. Posing the question “How does a flower know how to become a flower?” Turing spent the last years of his mathematical career looking closely at ordinary flowers. His mathematical inquiry into biological morphogenesis worked with simple pairings of activators and inhibitors that behaved in predictable ways but produced complex results as they interacted over time. Similarly Ms. Mantell observes ordinary things, applies simple parameters to generate conceptually and aesthetically complex results in her artwork.

Cloud Map, torn magazine page, wax, 8 x 10″ 2017

With Cloud Map, Ms. Mantell started with a cigarette advertisement from a magazine. She imposed the restriction of using only her bare hands to create a drawing; no tools or other materials were used. Then she set out to remove as much material as possible while still retaining the structural integrity of the original sheet of paper.  The results closely resemble Turing patterns. A torn hole could never be too large or the integrity of the underlying image would be destroyed; neither could the supporting matrix remain too thick or the challenge of removing as much material as possible would not have been met.  Although the holes were torn in an intuitive manner, one could imagine that “completeness” was the inhibitor and “removing” was the activator.

There is an emotional quality to the act of removing. The substrate, already disposable, moves towards fragility. Being damaged while remaining recognizably whole has parallels with being ill or wounded and yet continuing to live. The sense of vulnerability is underscored by leaving only the nicotine warning intact and legible.

The touch of the hand is key to understanding the artwork. At first glance Nicotine appears to be a perforated and colorful lattice.  Closer examination reveals the nearly disposable substrate and the patience evident in the handwork. The careful attention and repeated touching of the material elevates the sheet of paper out of the realm of rubbish into the realm of a carefully realized work of art. In this sense Ms. Mantell’s work is transformative, use mundane materials to reflect on the nature of transience.

This Little Palace, cut paper cup, wax, 8 x 8 x 5″ 2017

Another body of work was the project transforming discarded paper coffee cups into space filling sculptural objects. She set herself the challenge of making the cup occupy as much volumes as possible without either adding or removing materials. Many of the artist’s solution approach surface filling curves before being expanded into a elaborate brambles resembling tumbleweeds or feathers. Starting with a familiar object on the brink of its own extinction, she expands it to occupy more time, in the form of her careful attention to it, and space.

By exploring simple principles with a meditative and deeply human eye, Eva Mantell explores pattern in nature using materials that refer to our everyday lives. The patience and care with which she attends to disposable objects makes us question our relationship to the human detritus our culture thoughtlessly produces. Her work gently but clearly underscores the importance of noticing the overlooked and finding structure and beauty in the ephemeral.

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Eva Mantell:  lives in Princeton, NJ and has exhibited her sculpture, painting and video at the Monmouth Museum, the Hunterdon Museum, the Bernstein Gallery at Princeton University, the Abington Art Center, the Jersey City Museum and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. She has a BA from Penn and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. She curates, teaches and speaks about art including the recent Art as Activism, at the exhibit Fight or Flight at The Painting Center, NYC. She has a special interest in arts engagement and community outreach and her teaching has been included in Designing and Delivering Arts Programs for Older Adult Learners, published by the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC. In January 2018, her work will be on view in a group exhibit in Brooklyn, NY at http://soho20gallery.com/ Eva’s website is evamantell.com.