Posted tagged ‘compositions’

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.