in Context (encapsulated version)
I was about
10 when I first saw a reproduction in a book of Salvador Dali's Persistence
of Memory. I remember thinking it was a delightfully strange image.
The first time I saw M.C. Escher's work was around 1965-66. In a Time-Life
series book, I can recall seeing his prints Relativity and House of
Epiphany at the Alhambra
In December 1975, at age 21, I took my first trip to Europe. In Amsterdam , I visited the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. His paintings made a powerful impression on me.. It was at that moment I realized the power of visual art. Early in the new year , I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico . I was just helping my then girlfriend Rebecca move there to attend college. I went for a week and ended up staying three years.
I worked at a record store called Natural Sound. In the Spring of 1977, I began to learn drawing and painting at the University of New Mexico. That Summer for a family reunion , my two brothers , my parents and I took a car tour of Spain. Over the course of a month we traveled to many different cities. In Madrid, at the Prado Museum, the two pictures that I remember most from that trip are Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights and Brueghel's Triumph of the Dead.
Aware of its importance to the development of Escher's work, I visited the Alhambra in Granada. Arriving in the early hours a bit under the weather; I thought for sure that I had a full-on cold or flu. But amazingly, it seemed that after hours of exposure to the calm and harmonic resonance of the palace and gardens I felt completely well.
As Escher had done before me, I had come to view the encyclopedic and miraculous array of periodic tilings. And it was fantastic and amazingly inspiring. What I didn't expect was a perceptual and a definitive ontological epiphany. Standing at one of the portals, over looking the city, I looked thru a large plate of contemporary safety glass which had most likely been positioned to prevent young children from falling to their death. However it also had a phenomenological function. It quite superbly reflected an adjacent section of the intricate Moorish tessellation and in effect, transparently composited it over the viewable scene below which was comprised of various types of 'figuration' consisting of buildings, plant life, rock formations etc. It was here in an instant, that the essential pictorial metaphor of my oeuvre was born.
Meeting Salvador Dali
A few days later in Figueras, I met and shook hands with one of my heroes, Salvador Dali, then 73, in the foyer of the Hotel Duran. I showedhim a raw sketchbook drawing ; a portrait of my brother informally called David Acevedo with a Beard. It's a piece that I had knocked out on the tour. Dave and I kept busy in the cafes filling our sketch books with poetry and drawings.
wife, Gala was also there but she peeled off from him and kept walking.
I never actually met her. But I have retained a dreamlike memory of
this elegant and ghostly figure seemingly floating across the floor
at 80 degrees to Dali's trajectory right towards me.
I showed him the drawing. He stared at it with an unflagging intensity that I hadn't previously experienced. After staring at it for about 10 seconds, Dali said only two words, "Cadaques, Saturday." He seemed to be inviting us to his home in Cadaques.
The following day, on my shy suggestion, my father goes to Dali's door and speaking in Spanish announces the Acevedo family. But alas, the door is not opened, and we're not let in. It just wasn't meant to be. Had Dali forgotten? To this day, I wonder if it was because an older Spanish-American family man didn't jive with the image of a skinny young art student who flashed a raw but inspired felt-tipped pen rendering in front of his eyes.
In 1978, I acquired the book called The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra  "The Tao"..exploded my outlook and gave me a firm conceptual basis on which to support the theoretical aspects of my work. The basic premise of the book is that the world-view, specifically the general description of sub-atomic phenomena by Western particle physicists, is becoming almost interchangeable with the description of reality found in the major forms of Eastern mysticism.
Capra's systematic comparison of the two disciplines implies a compelling cosmography that is captured in Escher's zoomorphic tessellations. Here, seen as both a perceptual phenomenon and a graphic metaphor, Escher's work points to a visual art that both embodies and is an artifact of a multi-sensory and metaphysical seeing. For example, Escher's print Reptiles , illustrates quite nicely the dynamic tendency of subatomic events and also medio-cosmic scaled life-forms to appear and disappear, their vital patterns and symmetry temporarily discerned as they emerge from and return to an underlying morphogenetic field. Some Eastern mystics call this the "void-matrix".
In his own Surrealist quasi-Christian way Dali tuned into the Tao of Physics, over twenty years before it was published. As quoted in his Mystical Manifesto of 1951 "The major crises of Dalinian mysticism basically derives from progress in the exact sciences in our age, especially the metaphysical spirituality of substantiality in quantum physics."
The Escher Foundation
In the summer of 1979 I made a trip to several European countries and had the opportunity to spend a week in the Haague, where, with the permission of the Gemeentemuseum, I finally was able to learn from Escher's original notebooks. I knew that Escher and his wife had made copies of the Moorish tiles at the Alhambra, so I thought, study Escher's notebooks and build on what he did with the patterns. For seven or eight days straight, I made hand-transcriptions of Escher's personal notebooks, and finally unlocked (for me) Escher's 2D tessellation methods.
It was the dot-to-dot coordinates on graph paper that revealed how the zoomorphic perimeter of Escher's figures were constructed. Retrospectively I feel, Escher's dot plotting and connecting curves that outline animal perimeters have much in common conceptually with computer-generated vector graphics. Also the underlying cartesian grid of the graph paper is not unlike the underlying pixel grid employed in digital raster graphics. Moreover, the nature of the patterns figure-ground perceptual duality is a striking metaphor for the a priori on-off phenomenology of the digital domain in general.
An alternative approach to zoomorphic tessellation
In April 1980, I produced the pencil drawing called Four-fold Rotational Wasp -Fish Orifice Covet. It began as the basis of a gray scale study for my color class at Art Center College of Design and it was in fact the first complete work of mine that was a direct result of my study of Escher's notebooks the previous Summer. Structured on a 5x7" matrix of squares, this composition was intended to combine three different types of pictorial idioms. These are Surrealist allegorical figuration, non-objective hard-edged geometry and finally Escher-like zoomorphic tessellation.
It was seeing and transcribing an insect pattern from Escher's notebooks that inspired me to create the 4-fold rotational wasp. I could have easily emulated the positive and negative figure-ground interchangeability of Escher's zoomorphics, but I felt my work would have seemed too derivative. I decided to adopt an open-packed style.
My rationale at the time was based on looking at photos of groups of parachutists holding hands on their way down, and noticing the abstract or non-objective interstitial spaces between the figures - you don't see the one to one figure-ground toggle. Funnily enough, I did not reference at the time the perennial and ubiquitous use of open arrays and openly linked methods of tiling the plane as seen in textile pattern design especially botanical motifs.
Another aspect to my own use of zoomorphic tessellation was in developing a looser calligraphic approach to the linear perimeters as well as using erratic color schemes in the painted versions - i.e. the underlying drawing would be periodic but the way they were colored was somewhat randomized. In the tessellation study for the painting called Synchromesh Cezannic Kennedy, there are permutations and anamorphs of a 3-fold rotational bird pattern. I always thought that it was unfortunate that the intricate crystalline effect of this "neo-expressive tessellation meltdown" was never as crisp in the final painting. This effect is almost like administering a wave filter in Adobe Photoshop. If you look at the final canvas this pattern appears almost like an impressionist's version of its original tight-knit faceting.
From Polygons to Polyhedra
In the Spring of 1980 I saw a diagram in Anthony Pugh's book Polyhedra: A Visual Approach. [x] This convinced me to expand my study of polygonal periodic tilings to include the exploration of all-space filling and open-packed polyhedral nets or arrays.
I had already become aware of Escher's interest and work with polyhedra by reading chapter 14 of Bruno Ernst's Magic Mirror [x] called "Marvelous Designs in Nature and Mathematics". All space-filling polyhedra are the logical 3D counterpart to all-plane filling polygons which in turn are the underlying support to Escher's zoomorphic work. Although, contiguous face to face zoomorphic polyhedra are theoretically possible, their complexities most likely require computer graphics and the added non-simultaneity of a time-based system of interlace to be realized in a satisfying manner.
Sometime later I acquired a copy of the book co-authored by Doris Schattschneider called M.C. Escher Kaleidocycles [x]. Inspired by her Escher based development of tessellation-covered polyhedra, I began to use the technique in preliminary sculpture studies for drawings and paintings. However in most cases I used "texture-mapping" that was non-periodic or made up of bits of the surrounding pictorial environment itself.
A painting I did in 1982-3 called Approximately Noon Onward: Icosahedronic Moment included a cluster of icosahedra which I first rendered as a sculpture by folding up a group of ordinary picture postcards.
The tessellation study for Sad Voyeur Watching Orthogonal Womanhood shows orthographic perspectival cubical clusters housing zoomorphic data. I enjoyed the self-similarity and tension between the hexagonal housings for the cubes and their corresponding hex-based rotational symmetry. This study was inspired by the well-known 3-plex interpenetrating golden mean rectangles that can be used as scaffolding to circumscribe an icosahedron.
photo credit (c)1983 Werner Krutein
The influence of R. Buckminster Fuller
It's hard to describe the effect that Buckminster Fuller had on me. He certainly changed my life - for the better. I had the great fortune to hang out with him many times in various settings: everything from being one of an audience of thousands to one on one, all during the last six months of his life. It certainly was an extraordinary time. I've never met anyone like him before or since; I feel he is one of the most remarkable human beings I've ever met - a kind of Roshi or holy man and yet 'the high priest of technology', as he was described on the front page of the Los Angeles Times at the time of his passing in July 1983.
I had first heard of him through my older brother David in 1969, but it wasn't until 1980 that I started actively reading and studying Fuller's books. I recommend reading Synergetics [x&x] to anyone interested in form and structure, from metaphor to architecture.
It's one thing to be fascinated with polyhedra and their spatial and aesthetic properties - it's quite another to find as I did in Fuller; an awesomely comprehensive cosmography utilizing their topological properties as tools for modeling micro and macro energetic phenomena.
It was the Fuller contextualized isotropic vector matrix (IVM) - a spatial network made up of closely-packed tetrahedra and octahedra - that I have found the most applicable to my work so far. As Escher would make geometrical models to inform and enliven his graphic work, I did as well. Around this time, I built my own model of this structure out of wood and styrofoam. Another polyhedral all-space filler I've utilized in net-form is the truncated octahedron.
An important aspect of Fuller's work that is relevant to visual art is his geometry, being based on triangulation and sphericity, it offers a graphic language that is non-cubist and non-cubical. Fuller's Synergetics promulgates mathematician Leonhard Euler's polyhedral topology of visual experience which consists of a phenomenology of line, crossings and windows (i.e. edges, vertices and faces) This certainly updates the culminating 19th-century's Cezannic geometric tool-set of cylinder, sphere and cone and its resultant legacy - the 20th-century's primal traditional-media lexicon of graphical abstraction based on Cubism.
Since 1982, from traditional painting and drawing to digital media, I have utilized the isotropic vector matrix or "octet truss" as a way to explore graphical phenomenology and to metaphor the void-matrix as it paradoxically oscillates with eternal emptiness and the fullness of an all-pervasive potentiality - in effect the universal substrate for the perpetual cosmic dance of life and death of all form.
This metaphysic read of the IVM comes from my study of the aforementioned book The Tao of Physics. In 1983 my graphical worldview was reaffirmed by also reading the book called The Holographic Paradigm and other Paradoxes: exploring the leading edge of Science, edited by Ken Wilber [x]. It encouraged me to continue to make art that is about the underlying structural nature of things. One particular essay in the book called, A Multi-dimensional View, by William A. Tiller was to profoundly affect my thinking. Tiller postulates that space is a six-dimensional Euclidean space articulated as a close-packed hexagonal lattice with active nodal points. This sounded very much like a partial description of Fuller's vectorial matrices.
It was a simple intuitive jump to replace my 2D tessellation overlay on figuration with polyhedral overlay and to render the closely packed volumes linearly as polyhedral nets which allowed for the interpenetration to be seen. What inspired this was the many color plates in the back of Synergetics 2 - these being particularly revelatory - illustrating various localized polyhedral domains nesting perfectly in an aggregate IVM. They quite profoundly suggested a new paradigm for re-visioning figure/ground cartography.
What I consider my first successful computer graphic image is called Ectoplasmic Kitchen. This image created in 1987, was initially issued as a 16x20" Cibachrome print created on an IBM AT clone running West End Film Artworks software. Combining influences from both Escher and Fuller, this work combines Escher-inspired open-packed zoomorphics enclosed in a Synergetic great-circle spherical domain. The Escher-like creatures are arrayed symmetrically about double 3-fold roto-centers and emerge from an underlying triangular and hexagonal grid.
It is significant that using computers to make images in the summer of 1987 rekindled my fondness for utilizing zoomorphic tessellation. The software's ability to easily replicate forms and perform symmetry operations such as rotation and translation made repeating patterns a quite natural thing to do. Escher's work in many ways prefigures the advent of digital art.
Since my early experiments with computer art on early PCs. I've continually updated my hardware and software. I've recently adopted the use of a sophisticated 3D modeler and animator called SoftImage which runs on an SGI or a Windows NT system. Additionally, I've kept up with each new version of Adobe Photoshop with its improved functionality, running it on faster and faster Macs.
Conceptually, I continue to employ polyhedral nets that interpenetrate my figurative subjects, persevering with the metaphor born on my 1977 Escher- inspired Satori at the Alhambra. The prospect of exploring this concept in time-based and interactive modalities is still there waiting to be done.
The Lacemaker is an homage to the famous same-titled painting by Johannes Vermeer from 1665. I was always fascinated how Dali became obsessed with this image for a time in the middle 1950s. He went on to paint his own abstracted rendering of it in, which is quite nice. For my version, I took the original photograph of a friend on New Year's Eve 1995. I hadn't consciously set out to do it, but all the elements came together in a split second of recognition. Not consciously posing, she happened to be reassembling a bracelet that had come undone. She appeared to be emulating the posture of the woman in Vermeer's painting, at that instant,I snapped the picture.
As a student, Vermeer and early Velasquez were influences. I loved how they took everyday life as their subject.The 1995 New Year's Eve synchronicity underscores my continuing interest in everyday life as seen, recorded and then digitally revisioned into a kind of meta-physical photographic archive.
Orb Matria Polemics
* Definitions: Matria - as in more than one matrix i.e. matrices in meta-phorm. Polemic: an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another. fr the French: polemique : controversial; fr Greek: polemikos