Archive for October 2008

Routes @ Waterhouse & Dodd

October 29, 2008

Routes is a collection of contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art. Two of the artists featured were Nja Mahdaoui and Monir Farmanfarmaian. Both their work was worth going to see. But then I was pretty sure I’d be impressed before I went as you may have seen them recently mentioned on my blog.
Located in Cork Street (just off of Saville Row), the gallery itself was quite small and the work was displayed and split over the ground floor and basement. I had no idea that Cork Street was a sort of hub for galleries. But it seems that 26 Cork St was one of the smaller ones. The problem with this is that a lot of the work on display was quite large, and I don’t think it was set out in the best way possible.

Nja Mahdaoui

Nja Mahdaoui

There were members of staff seated at their computers in various corners of the rooms and at times I had to look over the top of their heads to see a particular painting. I found this off-putting.
In one corner there was a very large mirror mosaic by Monir Farmanfarmaian that I wanted to look at quite closely and also wanted to take pictures of, but it had a collection of very unflattering white rubbish bags in front of it (the type that the dustmen collect from the large bins outside your home). Not to mention the pile of brown torn paper and bubble wrap. Ok I understand that if they were expecting a VIP guest then they probably would have done things differently.

I’d even noticed that in the image shown on the front of the exhibition leaflet the gallery space was very clean, open and spacious with no clutter and no unhanged artworks leaning against the sides of the walls. It looked so different I had to look closer to determine if it was the same gallery! My point is that the staff and owners should attempt to keep the space in a certain way and they should always be prepared for the odd visitor on a weekday afternoon who will expect to see the work in a proper manner.

In the end I asked the gentleman (who was eating his lunch at his computer desk amongst the paintings in the basement) to remove the trash bags so that I could take a decent photo. I took a photo of the offending bags too just to illustrate my point. I mean you just don’t expect this from a gallery that has such great work within, especially as it is the centre of a thriving area of London.

Anyway back to the work. I’m still really glad I went to see this collection. There were quite a few pieces that I found very inspiring. On close inspection it was also clear that even though the work is very striking on first impression, they are not perfect in the conventional sense of every line and every dot being in its rightful place. Ok there is the chance that the artist did not intend for the work to be perfect in such a way. The surfaces were lumpy in places and the lines were not quite straight or the paint didn’t quite meet the edge of the border, etc. I don’t see these as negative factors at all, but rather like elements that come about through the process of producing the work and making them what they are in the end. So the work is perfect in the end because it becomes what it is made with and from. (Does that make sense?).

To me the imperfections are a sign that humans can only strive for perfection and hope to come close to it but can never achieve it – as only God is perfect and only He can create something which is perfect (personal view based on faith here of course).

Another thing is that these imperfections make me feel a lot better about my own work. For some reason it reassures me that even though my own work isn’t perfect it’s still possible to reach a standard that is very close to perfection? Once again it is something that should be strived for as it brings out the best in what you try to achieve. So I’ll just keep going and try and produce better work every time I do something new.

Ok I have strayed from the pieces on show again – right so there were these ‘Paper Plates’ by Hamra Abbas that were made from little strips of paper with the words ‘please get served’ or ‘get served please’ printed onto them. It was a bit difficult to tell due to the way the strips overlap (zoom in on those images for a good look). Each strip was placed according to a geometric Islamic pattern and so they formed gaps were there were no strips but in the shape of stars, squares, triangles, etc. This looked great.

I think I have figured out how it might have been achieved too. Ok it’s not a very sophisticated method and would be my cheap, a little messy but workable approach. It must have been a bit like papier-mâché. The strips must have been wet with slightly sticky gluey water on one side and were stuck onto real plates with the design already laid out on there. Once all the strips were stuck down in place they must then have been allowed to dry on the plate. Then, once completely dried all the strips would be stuck together as they were overlapped at points and create an interlaced effect. Being all stuck together in the dry state makes it easier to peel the whole thing off leaving a paper plate in the shape of the original plate to which the strips were stuck. Tadaaa!

I have a couple images (all taken with my handy mobile) in the gallery so do take a look. I liked the original way in which patterns were formed here. The artist was thinking outside the box – made something that is simple yet different and with lovely aesthetic effect. I really liked it!

There were also two mirror mosaics by Monir Farmanfarmaian. One was in the shape of a triangle and the other a sort of rhombus? (Please leave a comment if you recognise the shape and let me know if I am wrong). The mirror pieces are all very small and there are whole sections that are made from squares placed together in a way that create a 3d effect. The small squares begin to look like piles of stacked cubes able to catch the light – some parts being shaded and others illuminated. There is then the contrast of the other mirror pieces that are bigger, longer, angular and slightly curved – allowing for spiral effects and shell like formations. This one was also much neater looking for some reason.

I prefer the rhombus shaped one (the one that had the bags in front and near it). Not only does the triangle seem to be at odds with its surroundings in this case but I also don’t like the shade of orangey paint or tint used for the coloured parts (see close up). However, what I think would look really good was if there were two triangle mosaics – one as it is in the picture and the other a few inches away and flipped upside down. I’m not quite sure why in my head it looks better and seems to put the oddness to rightness, but it does.

Mirror mosaic by Monir Farmanfarmaian

There were also a few other works I really liked. I’ve realised I’m really picky about what I like. I can’t help it and although I knew I had a certain taste, it now has emerged that unless it is smart, aesthetically pleasing or emotionally compelling yet still strikes a chord in my brain where the light for positive impressions is turned on, then I will just dismiss it (be it art work, clothes or anything where taste is at question). And even though I think I’m open minded enough to give everything a chance, I’m still a bit snobby about what should and should not be classed as ‘art’. Ok this could potentially turn into a giant can of worms. Hmm I wonder if I should even share that kind of thing with everyone? Well it might provoke someone to leave a comment so – lets leave it in for now.

I think I’ve made this post more than long enough. I might not have covered everything I wanted but I think I got the important stuff in. Have a look at the site for the exhibition for more information on the artists and better quality images of their work:

Nja Mahdaoui

October 20, 2008

There is this feeling you get sometimes when you see/hear/watch something astounding and it gives you the shiver-me-timbers, as I like to call it. It’s a positive feeling in most cases and it’s like wow this is so amazing/funny/beautiful…or any other superlative you deem fit for the description.

Anyway so I received this giant book of one artist’s work when I attended the Word into Art Exhibition in Dubai. It was so heavy that the thought of carrying it on to the plane to Pakistan (where I headed on to next), keep it in good condition there and then carry it back to London via Dubai two weeks later, on the way back home was quite daunting. But the one reason I went through all that (and no it wasn’t because it was a well printed free book) was because the work of this artist gave me the shiver-me-timbers. Nja Mahdaoui is the name of the Tunisian born artist whose work I am now on about.

I can’t even attempt to describe the beauty of the work and obviously this is very subjective as it appeals to me in many ways and for various reasons. I will try and list these later but first let me show you the work. And because I like so much of it I am not going to limit the amount in this post – prepare yourselves!

All these images are from Mahdaoui’s official site:




Yes you read correctly – one way of knowing you’ve made it as an artist is when you’re work is used on a series of airplanes! See this webpage for more images

And now I insist you look around the rest of Mahdaoui’s site to see how his work has been transferred to buildings; stained glass elements of which add a vibrancy to structures that can sometimes be, well, boring. His designs have also been incorporated onto dresses, and by the looks of it, many more mediums which we are promised will be displayed on the site “soon”. These include papyrus, jewellery and tapestries.

Oh yes. Why do I like these works? Here is a quick list which is by no means complete or fully explained:

Colours. Mainly black and white is used (my favourite combination for detailed works of these type). Other colours are from a select palette and mean that the work is consistent and have a sort of organised ruling to them. They also remind me of Piet Mondrian’s choice to use only primary colours in his work (more on him in a day or so).

Block type shapes. These can be especally noted from the contrast to the flowing calligraphy. These shapes are formed not only by the background colours or the flow of the text but also from the way they work as borders to new segments within the layout of the more geometric designs.

Empty space. This is used effectively. Amongst all the detail and condensed text there are some gaps that allow for the design to breath. They emphasise the parts that are filled with the lines of text (thick and thin) and also the different shapes created in the overall composition.

Straight edge and curves. This is great – I love the way the spiralling rose effect is centered within a rotated square in one. Again this is seen where there are circles within squares or overflowing of curves from the calliugraphy spilling onto a backdrop of straight and geometric edges/blocks of smaller concentrated text. Once again I think this contrast just helps to play one off against the other but to highlight the aesthetics of each and not to compete.

Calligraphy. This is a major form of illumination and decoration in Islamic art. An area I am hoping to explore later in my research. But for now I think the above examples really do a great job of showcasing the variety of designs and compositions possible in the art of Arabic Calligraphy which in the Islamic world has become reknowned. It is a fine art in itself and must be practised for years to be mastered.

Feel freel to comment on any aspects you feel should be mentioned that make these works good or perhaps not as good as you think they could be? I’d definately be interested to hear others’ opinions 🙂

Don Relyea – Q&A

October 18, 2008

Well I emailed Don Relyea as I said I would ( and very kindly he responded in detail with some very interesting answers and observations:

I really like your work involving the generation of geometric shapes with programming in interactive applets. What would you say triggered your desire to use these types of shapes in your designs?

Since most of my work is created in some kind of programming language, it is natural to describe shapes and forms with math and both 2d and 3d geometry. I have always enjoyed math. From about 1999-2003 I developed severe sleep apnea, this deprived my brain of oxygen and meaningful sleep. Over that time I began to lose the ability to do math, solve complex problems, and even routine programming exercises became extremely difficult.

I thought I was losing my mind. When I figured out what was wrong and started treatment, it was as though I had just emerged from a thick fog into daylight. I immersed myself in math and exploratory programming with a new found zeal. The recovery and subsequent rediscovery of my love for math was the catalyst for the burst of abstract geometric and space-filling curve works.

Considering how much emphasis has been placed on geometry in the past and the desire to create artwork based on exact measurements of shapes (e.g the use of golden ratio), where do you see geometry fitting in contemporary art?

Geometry will always have a place in the world of contemporary art. Successful artists are successful manipulators. Geometry is a great foil for manipulation. Why is it that people are drawn to compositions with certain proportions? When something is out of proportion, why is it so jarring?

I think that a lot of the answers to these questions lie in neuroscience and the way our brains are wired to recognize patterns and forms. There have been a lot of recent studies that show that we have at a minimum 2 brain functions going on at the same time, the executive mind and the habitual mind. The executive mind is what we engage when we encounter something new or need to solve a problem, the habitual mind is our autopilot. This is not a new concept, ancient Zen masters were aware of this. The habitual mind is programmed through repetition to detect patterns and shapes and it keys in on certain proportions like golden ratios, facial symmetry, etc. As an artist you can play with this feature in your viewers brains to evoke a response.

Mark Mothersbaugh’s current exhibit at LACDA titled “Beautiful Mutants” is great example this manipulative technique in action.
In “Bottom Heavy Pug” Mothersbaugh is challenging both the executive and habitual mind simultaneously, the picture looks enough like the original that your habitual mind immediately identifies it as a dog. Your executive mind also immediately recognizes that there is something proportionally awry with the picture. The internal conflict makes the picture memorable and engaging.

Bottom heavy pug by Mark Mothersbaugh

Along the same line of reasoning, works that are geometrically exact are equally engaging. Geometric perfection is actually quite rare in nature and we can recognize when a form is artificially perfect. In “Bottom Heavy Pug” the vertical symmetry is exact, we recognize that this is uncommon and take note.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Don Relyea for taking the time to answer these questions, and with such detail 🙂

There are loads more interesting projects he is working on, so once again I recommend a look at his site. In particular I’ve just noticed this project based on html layouts and table based html structures which actually form interesting imagery when viewed in a browser: the reductionizer.

Bathsheba Grossman

October 16, 2008

I’ve just found a great site and some great artwork. It encompasses a large idea I had of producing some of my own designs in some kind of 3d form, as well as the theories on which my research is based. It also relates back to the image in one of my earlier posts where I mentioned the ideas of Donald (H.S.M) Coxeter and showed how a hypercube could be evolved to a higher dimension of shape.

600 Cell by Bathsheba Grossman

600 cell –

Snub 24 cell by Bathsheba Grossman

Snub 24 Cell –

Grossman also mentions the subject areas that I am interested in exploring in my research and which will link to geometry.

Grossman says:

I’m an artist exploring the region between art and mathematics, and this is my gallery and storefront. My work is about life in three dimensions: working with symmetry and balance, getting from a zero point to infinity, and always finding beauty in geometry.

That’s to say, I like to think about shapes, and occasionally I think up a new one, and usually they come out very symmetrical.

I highly recommend visiting the site Grossman explains that her motivations for creating the metal based sculptures are far from commercial and she simply prices her work in order to make it available to anyone and not just those with large amounts of money. She also explains her working process, conveys her working space through images and descriptions and allows visitors to her site use of her 3d-print images for furthering their own practice in creating similar work.

Grossman tells us of her efforts to find a suitable solution for creating her work and does so in a very open manner. The site is written and maintained in her own words and not through a third party. All these elements combine to give a very friendly perception of her personality and her work and just a strangely comforting good vibe about her intentions.

Regardless of all this, I think the work is remarkable. The 3d forms allow for different angles and views of the pieces, each time making them look a little different, and also for the effect of light and dimness to show the deeper cutouts and interlacing of sections. This adds to the look and feel of the sculptures and the complexity makes them look like inverted mazes that you’d want to shrink yourselves into in order to explore.

Hmm perhaps a maze is something I can work with? Will develop this idea later me thinks.

Word into Art – Dubai 2008 (pt 2)

October 16, 2008

Continuing from the previous post, I have a few more artists I’d like to comment on. Here is ‘Allah’ by Samir Al Sayegh:

Allah by Samir Al Sayegh

This work actually reminds me of a kameez (traditional Pakistani shirt) I used to have. The print was almost identical and in black and white (which are the colours I have favoured in my own work in the past – see link to Examples of my work on the right).

So what I like about this is the fact that you can’t tell straight off that it is produced with the word ‘Allah’ which means God in Arabic, repeated all over but rotated in places to create a pattern. The word is written in a stylised Arabic text, making it look blocky and geometric.

Artist and poet Samir al-Sayegh has been exploring the possibilities of Arabic calligraphy for many years. In this black-and-white composition he has turned the word ‘Allah’ into geometric shapes.

Word into Art – Dubai 2008 (pt 1)

October 13, 2008

I was reminded of an exhibition I went to whilst in Dubai earlier this year. It was the Word into Art exhibition that had been on in the British Museum back in 2006. I was very glad to have been able to catch the one in Dubai and I was not disappointed when I got there.

I’ve shown some of the images below of the artworks that I found of interest and to my liking.

Kamal Boullata

Ana Al-Haqq - I am the Truth by Kamal Boullata

Nur ala nur by Kamal Boullata

Read more on this piece here

I like the way the symmetrical layout and break down of larger square, with rotated smaller squares, has been combined with the kufic arabic calligraphy. The subject matter is the meaning of Nur – light in arabic. It is very symbolic and has many connotations in spirituality and religion – not just Islam but Christianity too.

A bit about the artist:

“Kamal Boullata :- PALESTINE
Born in Jerusalem in 1942. Works and lives in Washington, Morroco and Paris.
Boullata recalls sitting for hours on end as a small boy in front of the Dome of the Rock, engrossed in sketching its innumerable and unfathomable geometric patterns and calligraphic engravings. Those patterns he saw as a child still echo endlessly throughout his adult work. I keep reminding my self that Jerusalem is not behind me, it is constantly ahead of me. From an interview with the Artist”

Ahmed Moustafa

Moustafa uses traditional calligraphy to form the artwork and uses the old and classical decorative technique of repeating more text over the first layer but mirrored upside down. Therefore you are required to turn the work upside down in order to read the next line.

Where two oceans meet by Ahmed Moustafa

Sometimes the text is a mirrored version but flipped horizontally to add an almost mish mash type effect. The technique is used slightly differently below and looks particularly effective in this piece which produces a great symetrical design using the arabic names of Allah (God) – which represent his attributes as named in the holy Qur’an:

The attributes of divine perfection by Ahmed Moustafa

For more info on this piece click here:

Don Relyea – artist

October 11, 2008

I’ve just found this site a sort of online portfolio of work by Don Relyea.

Some of Relyea’s art projects focus on the use of a few basic geometric shapes. The combination of these shapes and the vibrant colours produces some interesting pieces. I really like them and think it is striking enough to make the viewer want to dismantle all the geometric components and examine them as individual parts.

The still image above is a view of what you would see once you have generated the design as the user (click the image to have a go). Relyea uses Shockwave applets to present his work. It is usually in the form of an interactive project and requires the user to take an initial action. For examle when the user clicks on the red blank box the design quickly starts printing itself from the top left corner all the way around the box in a clockwise spiralling motion until the whole box is covered with the pattern.

Relyea has variations of these pieces – some even allowing you to choose the combination of colours and the randomness of the generation of pattern. See the Space Filling Curve Art Generator

The technical background to his work is explained on his site. Here is an excerpt from the Artist Information page:

Relyea’s tools are script editing windows and compilers. Relyea’s schooling in traditional printmaking (under Lawrence Scholder) left him with a strong consideration for the process of image creation. Relyea loosely defines new digital processes by creating works manually first, he then transforms the processes into programming routines with parameters. The parameters can be dynamic data from the network, mathematical algorithms or number generators. The routines are repeated with parameter variations to generate designs of similar aesthetic quality.

I think I might try contacting him and ask him a few questions about his work and how much of it he considers to be influenced by the world of geometry. hmm wonder if he’ll reply – will keep you posted.