Monday, October 8, 2012


Jackson Pollock knew how to paint realistic figures and landscapes. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton who taught at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1935 to 1941. Like Picasso who created his own view of the world, Pollock rebelled against Benton’s traditional teaching and created the abstract expressionist movement.

What may look to us as random splatters from a self-indulgent painter takes a different perspective when we study fractals. Pollack’s reward was international fame and having his art compared to zoo productions by elephants and primates.

In reality his work represents nature’s principle of self-similarity, the whole looks like the part, or a fractal. In a fractal pattern each smaller structure replicates the larger form, perhaps not identically but enough that the repetition is visible and mathematically measurable. For example, the branching of a tree repeats from the trunk to the end of the branch. (Strike the tree with lightening and all bets are off.) Or the lacy repetition within a single snowflake. Or the ferns in my garden that are turning a lovely autumn red while exhibiting the self same design.

For years we thought the patterns in nature were outside math. A straight horizon could be measured and quantified. But a coastline or the rocky up-thrusts and crevices of a mountain could not except by measuring a baseline and height, thus forming a right triangle. We then need to butt the right triangle to a right triangle to another and so on. Rather ineffective and frustrating.

Fractals allow us to rethink dimension, reconsider the natural order around us. Is it random? Or is there a logical order we can’t appreciate without reconsidering our basic assumptions?

Researchers discovered that Pollock’s paint flinging and swirls followed patterns, shapes that repeated themselves on different scales. Furthermore, when the researchers experimented with a lawn sprinkler-type set up, the single color of the moment imitated Pollock’s patterns. And the patterns were fractals.

Physicist Richard P. Taylor of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia has taken a mathematical look at Pollock’s work.

“The unique thing about Jackson Pollock was that he abandoned using the brush on canvas and actually dripped the paint. That produced trajectories of paint on the canvas that were like a (two-dimensional) map or fingerprint of his (three-dimensional) motions around the canvas.”

A creator moving around his creation drawing patterns, colors, dimensions only he could see. Interesting thought.

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