The square root of art

M.C. Escher, often considered to be the pioneer of math-based art, once said in relation to his work, “For me it remains an open question whether (this work) pertains to the realm of mathematics or to that of art.” Math-based art is concerned not only with the aesthetic and formal qualities of visual images, but also with their underlying mathematical principals.

Rhythm of Structure: Beyond the Mathematics, a collaborative exhibition featuring work from some of the leading math artists in the country, appears this week in both Centre Gallery and the William and Nancy Oliver Gallery. Beginning Nov. 2, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) will also exhibit work from the collection. The exhibit is scheduled just in time for a mathematics conference, Knotting Mathematics and Art: Conference in Low Dimensional Topology and Mathematical Art, which takes place Nov. 1-4.

The exhibition, curated by John Sims, features the work of well-known math artists, including Brent Collins, Helaman Ferguson, Nat Friedman, Bathsheba Grossman, Charles O. Perry, Tony Robbin and Peter Swedenborg, as well as Sims’ work. Centre Gallery is displaying 10 works – five images hanging on the wall and five freestanding sculptures. Using various media, including mahogany, digital imagery, graphite, digital prints and bronze, the artists create works that are structured, calculated and evident of impressive precision. The work as a whole is fairly monochromatic, with the exception of Robbin’s colorful geometric images.

The body of work contains characteristics of what may or may not be expected from a collection of art categorized as mathematically based. When considering math, ideas and images relating to geometry and straight lines may come to mind. In Rhythm of Structure, geometrically organized images are part of the collection, as well as work containing curving and organic lines. Robbin’s work consists of two-dimensional geometric shapes rendered to appear three-dimensional, with sharp angles and carefully placed lines. Sims’ work harmoniously combines geometric line and shape with organic shapes of trees, complete with mathematical equations accompanying his signature at the bottom of the images.

Perry and Collins’ sculptures employ organic lines and smooth, curving shapes that involve a good deal of calibrated twists and turns. “Trifoil,” a beautiful mahogany piece by Collins, is composed of individual wood pieces that are strategically put together. This insinuates the amount of calculations needed to successfully execute the sculpture, which is very impressive. The smooth curves of the wood twist around and connect to other curves to create a piece that is unified, balanced and handsome. As Collins notes, his work evokes a “beauty only possible when work is informed by a kind of mathematical thinking.”

Perry uses bronze to create his sculptures, also incorporating curving and connecting shapes into his work. Another example of Perry’s metalwork is a large, stainless steel public sculpture entitled “Solstice,” which stands 28 feet high in Barnett Plaza in downtown Tampa.

According to Sims, Centre Gallery features more of the exhibition’s sculptural work and fine art. In contrast, Oliver Gallery is exhibiting images applied directly to the walls while paying tribute to the work and influence of the late Sol LeWitt, an American sculptor, graphic artist and writer known for his geometrically structured designs. Besides working with Sims on multiple occasions, LeWitt exhibited in such renowned institutions as New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.

The work displayed in the Oliver Gallery is organized into a grid format, from carefully painted squares to 2- to 3-foot strands of rope knotted and carefully arranged in rows. All of the work on display is executed using simple lines and colors without blending or shading.

All shapes, whether organic or geometric, are contained within their allotted space within the grid, yet connected with other shapes in neighboring spaces, creating a sense of unity and flow within the collection as a whole. Spanning the majority of the wall space, the large-scale work within the collection has a real, in-your-face quality that is likely to impress and impact viewers.

One of the larger pieces in the collection, a tribute dedicated to Sol LeWitt, is fairly simple in its rendering, using only bold lines to create the grid format within which the organic and curved lines are contained. The beauty within this work is in the simplicity of how the images are created and relationships are established. According to Sims, the collection of work conveys topological ideas of how things are connected.

Rhythm of Structure: Beyond the Mathematics features the work of renowned artists addressing the strong relationship of mathematics and art through work that is harmonious and beautiful. The impressive quality of the work displayed in conjunction with their big-name creators makes for a prestigious exhibition.

A closing reception will take place this Friday at 6 p.m. at both Centre Gallery and Oliver Gallery. An opening reception will take place at MOSI on Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the math conference, go to