Wednesday, July 27, 2011

777 Hard Edge Shapes

While visiting The New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts recently I was particularly drawn to a painting at the back wall of the show, "How the West Is One."  It is a painting by Frederick Hammersley.

Some time in the early 90's I was messing around with plotting polyrhythms onto graph paper. One of these experiments resulted in finding 777 unique "Hard Edge" shapes.   Just recently I have learned that Frederick Hammersley (credited with inventing the style that came to be known as "hard edge" or "abstract classicism.") kept a notebook of something similar.

image from Charlotte Jackson Fine Art website

He was doing this in the 60's through the early 90's.  In an article by Jennifer Riley for a show in 2007 she writes,  "Medium size square and rectangular paintings feature one, two, or three colors, plus black, white, or both black and white. Simple geometric shapes are arranged to create dynamic, expressive effects and fields of full color whose edges abut crisply, yet show traces of the hand.
Some of the works seem to favor the figure (albeit abstract) and others the ground, but in many cases the images straddle the liminal zone between them. Mr. Hammersley's vibrant, expressive colors are carefully calibrated but never become optical tricks. Evocative, witty titles are carefully chosen from a collection of words the artist keeps in a notebook. In "Enter" (1962), black, white, and green shapes are organized within a subtle vertical grid, four tall and three wide. On the right third of the image is a slick black band which recalls a wall cast in shadow. In the remaining two-thirds, a flat, white plane with a diagonal slot tilts upward as if in full sunlight, into which a green daggerlike shape enters. Mr. Hammersley's paintings do not have narrative content, but they often inspire associations. His skillful combination of language, design, and color allow this green, for example, to bring to mind all things vegetable-, forest-, and sea-like, but this can also quickly slide toward the mineral, like a shimmering emerald."

A photocopy page of my grid shapes from
the early 90s.  Shapes randomly filled in
with colored markers.

Is it some sort of convergence that I knew nothing about this painter but had a brief exploration in the early 90s of shapes born from a grid?  At the time I had no idea what to do with these shapes but was fascinated with the process of generating an ample supply of shapes.  

Page 6 of 10 pages where I devised a method
of "connect the dots" after plotting
polyrhythms onto a grid.

I wont reveal how the whole system works but it involves counting multiple cycles of beats over a grid of 5 beat measures.   The whole cycle starts to repeat itself after 10 pages (840 measures) are counted out.  The "R" within the shape marks repeated shapes that offer no other way to connect the dots without crossing lines.  There ends up being 63 shapes that are repeated, bringing the count to 777 different shapes.

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