In contemporary popular discourse, science and religion are often characterized as opposites — two radically different ends of the spectrum of worldviews. My work is an exploration of the gray areas and nuances between the two elements of this supposed binary. By incorporating the visual vocabulary of mathematics and the natural sciences as well as ecclesiastical architecture and iconography, I attempt to give voice to the spiritual capabilities of rationalism and (perhaps to a lesser degree) the rationalist capabilities of religion.
Geometry interests me in particular because its modern history has been thoroughly enmeshed with utility and industry, yet its simplicity and purity retains an elementally expansive power that is as able to induce awe as any natural wonder or religious experience. It speaks to both human impulses of reason and intuition. These twin impulses are ineluctably linked, but are generally thought of as opposites. And, as any one element of a binary is defined by the limits of the other, we see them as mutually exclusive. They are both rooted, however, in the basic need for understanding. This same motive, from an evolutionary standpoint, is what built the arena in which this tension plays out — the brain.1 The exploration of the nuance between these impulses goes further than proposing a simple fusion of old and new, or rationality and spirituality. I am aiming deeper, to this shared instinct to understand and the sublimity that is open to us through rational and spiritual thinking. By reflecting this sometimes precarious balance in my work, I am proposing a meditative and self-reflective dimension to the rational, lived experience of the contemporary human condition. Each work then functions as an icon within this framework of rationality, reflecting the tension between these perspectives and pointing to their common grounds.
In my work, this tension often plays out through the use of perspective, as an extension of geometry. Though accurate perspective in art was not fully realized until the European Renaissance, its foundation was laid in the eleventh century by Ibn al Haithan, an arabic mathematician.2 This cross- cultural confluence between mathematics and art persists, and represents just one of many points through history in which a mathematical discovery deepened our understanding, and therefore our appreciation, of the natural world. The idea that any earthbound perspective is determined by the same laws of optics that govern the light from the stars gave us a new sense of place in the universe. The fact that the constellations we so easily recognize only exist to us and that the same stars, from literally any other location in the universe appear in radically different configurations — this is a humbling, powerful thought. The millennia of mythic traditions from across the world that emerged from the reading of these fundamentally random configurations indicate the power of perspective. It is our grasp of perspective that allows us to appreciate the limits of our way of understanding.
Symmetry, too, is an extension of geometry laden with metaphysical significance. It is deeply connected to many of the only superficially disparate subjects I address. In physics, supersymmetry — or the idea that force particles and mass particles are actually reflections of each other — offers a new way of thinking about the foundations of physical reality. In biology, symmetry is a highly efficient staple in the evolutionary design of organisms. In religious iconography, symmetry connotes balance and stability: the scholarly tantric paintings of northern India are almost uniformly symmetrical. These works are similar to Christian icons, in that their forms are continually reproduced by many artists over generations — not copies so much as interpretations.3 Also, like Christian iconography, they are intended to function as meditative objects that inspire active contemplation. Approximate symmetry in both of these traditions is used to create an overall sense of equilibrium without identical repetition.4
The same is true of the universe as a whole: in astronomy, the axiom of the Cosmological Principal asserts that on large enough scales the distribution of matter in the cosmos is isotropic and homogenous — meaning that regardless of where you are, or where you look, the universe will look the same. There is a fundamental unity underlying the chaos and turmoil of the small scale. My work resonates with these currents in science and art history on both a conceptual and aesthetic level, and reflects the tension, order, and balance inherent to both our universe and our experiences within it. Symmetry in art, science, and spirituality is both mathematical and metaphysical, playing to both chaos and order.
The spontaneous, provisional and reactive process of drawing is one way I approach the broad concepts of order and entropy in my work. Heavens is a series of small, mounted drawings that has been in development since 2012. In these works, the materials are foregrounded rather than processes, emphasizing the variability and fluidity of the media. The title, as well as the subject matter, return to the tension of reason and intuition – heavens is a dual-purpose term, referring to both the astronomic and religious sense. The title of the exhibition, Hereafter, is a similarly multifunctional — meaning both “from now on,” as well as referring to the notion of an afterlife. These drawings and paintings often juxtapose bold, monolithic forms with subtle and textured atmospheres, as well as references to stars, planets, and the provisional geometry of constellations.
Printmaking offers its own advantages when dealing with these subjects. It is the very slowness and difficulty of the process of making a print that engenders a clarity of mind and simplicity of purpose while working. The immediacy of drawing or painting precludes the planning, chemistry, and obsessive nature inherent in the printmaking process. On its surface the technical tedium of pulling prints may seem cumbersome, but conceptually, there is a deeper significance: historically, printmaking has always been tied up in the ideas of struggle, uncertainty, and the need for oneʼs voice to be heard. These are precisely the issues that I am interested in exploring — the fine lines between toil and creation, the predictable and the unpredictable, reason and intuition.
1 Science, evolution, and creationism. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press, 2008.
2 Belting, Hans. Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science. Cambridge: Belknap, 2011.
3 Jamme, Franck André. Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan. Los Angeles: Siglio, 2011.
4 McManus, I.C. “Symmetry and Asymmetry in Aesthetics and the Arts.” European Review 13 (2005): 157-180.