Monday, December 3, 2018

Patterns in Nature

I’ve recently gotten back to the excellent book The Self-Made Tapestry by Philip Ball. I began this book at least 10 years ago. It’s a dense read- I need to have head-space available when I approach it (often difficult to come by as parent of a 4 year old!) and I generally need to set it aside for periods of time for integration. This book and other work by Philip about shape, form, and pattern have been highly influential in the evolution of my art.
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In this book, filled with many photos and illustrations, Philip discusses seemingly random, while highly specific, areas of science in the pursuit of attempting to understand how patterns in nature form. How do the zebra stripes form as they do? Why are honeycombs hexagonal? The answers are not at all straightforward and Philip flips over stones, discussing concepts that could potentially be answers but may also not be. This offers an approach to understanding the topic at hand from a meandering investigatory approach rather than a direct response from the place of already having considered the various possibilities. Its a fascinating ride through a mental process that then offers opportunity for education in pricinples and concepts of chemistry, physics, biology, cosmology and more.

Many years ago, when I was first doing geometric art (which at the time was the only way I could access large-scale artwork), Philips Ball and David Wade (I’ll write about him in the future) offered me a way of understanding and then simulating patterns of the natural world. My first artistic leap was when I was able to get into the head of natural pattern formation. The art that was inspired by these authors consisted of patterns across vast areas of beach, sometimes patterns that felt as though they could have arisen organically from the location. All my work since has been informed by the lessons I learned during this period of the art development- of treating the entire ‘canvas’ as an organism following its programming, or as a field of interacting forces, or of engaging processes to spontaneously generate formations.

Perhaps what this approach offered me was the relaxing of my mental questioning of any particular thing I might do- make a mark, which mark? how will that look? do it this way? what about another way? etc- allowing me to leave decision-making behind, engage whatever process I that was guiding me and let the artwork emerge. Such liberation in so many ways.

There have been a number of concepts from these books that have stuck with me over the years as ways that I fundamentally see and understand the world. Occasionally I can find ways to illustrate these concepts on the beach, or after the fact see that an artwork is revealing a concept. Sometimes these concepts offer me perspective and insight on myself or the world. In my next post I’ll start my first of a series on these various concepts/principle/ideas and how they have impacted my work and my life.

If you have ever wondered about patterns in the natural word and are up for wordy yet accessible discussion on somewhat dry yet fascinating topics, I highly recommend the The Self-Made Tapestry.

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