Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pollock's Cathedral

Indulging my Lenten musings again, I've been mulling over the idea of modern art and sacred spaces, such as the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, and Matisse's work in the Chapelle du Rosaire in St. Paul de Vence, France (*). But what stuck in my mind was a modern art sacred space that never existed--Jackson Pollock's cathedral. (Pollock's painting Cathedral appears above.)

Peter Lu, a Harvard physicist, recently made a connection between the patterns of Islamic mosques and the advanced forms of math behind them. Islamic art is iconoclastic (i.e., instead of the human figure, it uses intricate designs, many of which mimic nature). Below is an image from the Darbi-i Imam shrine in Iran that Lu claims shows a "quasicrystalline design."

When I read about Lu's work, something clicked in the back of my head about Pollock's work and advanced mathematics, specifically fractals. Taylor, Micolich, and Jonas wrote on Pollock's "Fractal Expressionism" to show how many of the patterns in his signature drip paintings mimic many of the fractal patterns in nature. When asked if he painted from nature, Pollock famously responded, "I am nature!" (Ed Harris snarls this line especially well in the movie.)

The intersection of Islamic abstraction in the name of iconoclasm and Pollock's abstraction in the name of (natural) expression freed from the figure makes me wonder what kind of sacred space could have been created using Pollock's work, perhaps as a series of stained glass windows.

Anyone who has seen Hans Namuth's footage of Pollock at work, painting on a plate of glass suspended on sawhorses as Namuth shot from underneath, can easily imagine the effect of being "inside" one of Pollock's works, feeling the rhythm and structure and yet the freedom of expression simultaneously. (Those interested in the Namuth film should read Pepe Karmel's chapter "Pollock at Work: The Films and Photographs of Hans Namuth" in Jackson Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe with Pepe Karmel.)

[(*) Anyone who would like to read more on Matisse's chapel and one author's infatuation with Matisse's work, should check out Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime by Patricia Hampel.]

UPDATE: Many thanks to Iconia: Wherever Faith Meets Art for the kind words and link to my site.

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