In 1959 the British scientist and writer CP Snow gave a famous lecture entitled ‘The Two Cultures’ in which he reasoned that ‘the intellectual life of the whole of western society’ is divided into two discrete parts: science and the humanities. He went on to despair at the schism, and argued that it actually holds back human progress. That lecture is still referred to today, probably because very little has been done to close that gap and the issue remains relevant. And what a shame, because when artists do show curiosity about science – and vice versa – new and thrilling ideas are born. Consider, for example, the mathematical rigour that underpins the musical poetry of a Philip Glass symphony.
This month at The Catto Gallery, you can see another fine example of the fusing of Snow’s ‘two cultures’. We’re pleased to welcome back, for the second time, the strange and wonderful work of Chuck Elliott.
In his arresting, digitally created images, Chuck – not unlike composer Glass – uses scientific ideas to generate lyrical visual poetry. Chuck’s images begin as rudimentary sketches and observations, of natural and geometric forms, which he finesses into kaleidoscopic adventures in line and colour. He thinks deeply about the work, building each layer with tremendous deliberation (in this collection, Radial 3 was drafted 70 times, each study building from and elaborating on the preceeding version). And there is often a complex geometrical dimension to this decision-making: he’s interested in symmetry, asymmetry and the fundamental patterns of nature. For example, the Fibonacci number sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc), which underpins everything from the structure of a pine cone to the shape of a breaking wave and the spiralling arm of a galaxy, drives the geometry in his ‘Collider’ series.
Much of Chuck’s output centres on the idea of applying a series of adjustments to a complex arrangement and, well, seeing where it leads. Here’s how Chuck conceived the Radial series, for example. “I asked the question: what would happen if you took the centre of the picture and cut it away, along with the horizon line, and the corners. The conclusion is that the work demands to be read in a completely different way, as a continual loop of imagery, much like a möbius strip.” From there he moved to the idea of using time as a component of the image making process, compressing multiple frames from a sequence of images into a single final composition. And so the experiments continue.
Of course, the beauty of nature often derives from its imperfections. And this is another idea Chuck has been keen to explore in this new collection. He says: “I’m interested in the removal of repetition. Taking away some of the underlying rhythm in the work, and substituting it with a more off-kilter, asymmetrical feel that’s more naturalistic. When a series of number patterns are overlaid and multiplied, the geometry moves in more freeform ways, so there is a sense of discovering more naturalistic sequences, the kind that generate growth in the natural world.”
In order to do justice to these ideas – and to produce effervescent images that ultimately speak to the heart as well as the brain – Chuck has developed a particular printing technique. This involves using Lambda prints (where photographic paper is exposed to laser light) presented in a Diasec mount (in which the print is sealed between an aluminium backing sheet and a Perspex face). The effect re-defines the term ‘pin sharp’.
There is no artist more committed to his craft than Chuck Elliott. He’s been refining his vision since he jettisoned his design career in 2004 to explore his own unique vision, allowing him to use the digital tools he’d employed in the commercial world in a far more experimental manner.
Today, eight years on, Chuck is at the height of his powers, bursting with ideas, and constantly evolving his understanding of how to realise them. But ultimately, we hope you’ll agree, the images speak for themselves.
Tim Green, December 2012