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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More Art from JMM – San Diego

There were so much interesting work on display at the JMM that I wanted to explore a few more.

Tom Bates – “Six Easy Pieces” – 30 x 28 x 25 cm -Bronze – 2010

Tom Bates’ cast bronze sculpture “Six Easy Pieces” is based on one of the Chen-Gackstatter minimal surfaces. Mathematical minimal surfaces are skin-like surfaces where the area is locally as small as possible. Quite often when minimal surfaces are represented as sculpture they are shown with a smooth surface. Bate’s bronze is unpolished and rough. I really like this more organic form. It adds an unexpected hand made feel to the work.

Elizabeth Whiteley -“Euclidean Arabesque 1”
41 x 51 cm – graphite + color pencil on archival paper – 2017

One of the exciting things about returning to the JMM show over a number of years is being able to see how artists’ work changes. This year Elizabeth Whiteley is showing elegant geometric drawings. These new renderings were produced using two circles with radii in a 1:0.75 ratio and arcs measuring 180 and 270 degrees. The drawing references Euclid’s Elements Book Three: proposition 12. The series of colored lines Whiteley has used to illustrate chords on the imaginary surface brings the form to life. The shape seems to float over the surface of the paper.
In case you are wondering what I brought to the JMM this year… I had one of my new lace drawings in the exhibit. “Syncopated Hexagons” features elements created on six axis (instead of four). These elements possess order 6 rotational symmetry.

Susan Happersett – Syncopated Hexagons
35 x 11 x 4 cm – Ink on paper – 2017

Susan Happersett

More Art From JMM: Elizabeth Whiteley and Clayton Shonkwiler

The gallery area at JMM was full of interesting work. Here are two more excellent examples.

Elizabeth Whiteley work is often related to botanical drawing and painting. In this new work she explores the geometry of of plants, but also the symmetries of design. Through her study of Frieze Group Symmetries she is developing a series of drawings that tackles the challenges that occur at the corners of the page. A Frieze Group is the mathematical classification for 2-D patterns that repeat in only one direction. Often seen on building as border decoration. There are seven symmetry groups that relate to Frieze patterns involving combinations of rotations reflections and translations.

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The silverpoint drawing “Halesia carolina I” (above) features a central figure of three blooms surrounded by a border pattern of single blooms. This frieze pattern features reflected translations with a line of reflection at the center of each side. Whiteley’s drawings call to mind the decorative use of borders in illuminated manuscripts. By referencing the patterns of the central figure in the design element of the border, the symmetries become more connected to the central theme.

The clean lines of Clayton Shonkwiler’s digital animation “Rotation”drew my attention. Using circles and lines, the video presents undulating, almost sensual, geometric images.

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I am providing a still shot I took in the gallery, but his videos are available on Shonkwiler’s website.

Although the geometric figures, circles packed into the square grid of the video frame, are basic, the mathematics for this visual feat is quite complex (Shonkwiler utilizes a Möbius transformation of the hyperbolic plane to the Poincaré disk model). I think it is the purity of the clean lines of the circles that allow the grace of the more complicated mathematical processes to translate into a really beautiful video.

Susan Happersett