Janice Johnson

Glimpses of the infinite

Glimpses of the infinite are provided in eye-catching detail in a Red Deer exhibit that marries art with mathematics.

Glimpses of the infinite are provided in eye-catching detail in a Red Deer exhibit that marries art with mathematics.

Striking spirals, swirls and other abstractions are being displayed in the Fractals Infinitum exhibit that opened Friday at the Kiwanis Gallery in the Red Deer Public Library.

The colourful works, by Eckville artist Elyse Eliot-Los and Calgary artist Janice Johnson, spring from a mathematical formula. A fractal is defined as a geometric pattern that’s repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces not represented by classical geometry.

For practical purposes, fractals are used in computer modeling of patterns and structures in nature, such as coastlines, clouds, snowflakes, mountain ranges and ocean waves. But they can also describe sounds and processes in time.

To Eliot-Los, they represent a mystical window to the universe.

“What’s not to like about them? The whole concept is so deep and mysterious — you are looking into something that’s infinite,” said Eliot-Los, who previously created mandalas and a decorative fabric labyrinth that allows art gallery viewers to wander through and become part of the installation.

Johnson finds fractals fascinating because “you can do so many things with them, aesthetically, and I tend to be a bit technical . . . I’ve always loved math.”

Johnson got to know Eliot-Los during her time studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design, where Eliot-Los taught a business management course.

The two artists were introduced to fractal images through Eliot-Los’s late mother, who was a “brilliant” advanced-age electronics whiz, who once hooked her sewing machine up to a computer. “She got this (fractal) screen saver, and we tried to figure out what we were seeing and how to make it,” Eliot-Los recalled.

It turned out there are lots of computer programs of fractal images. Eliot-Los was able to access some by typing the mathematical equation Z=Z2(squared) + C into a search engine.

The Central Alberta artist watches the constantly evolving patterns on her computer screen until she can zoom in on an aesthetically pleasing image. Eliot-Los then prints it off and applies various mixed media to it, such as gold leaf, paint, and various collage and raised-surface techniques.

Johnson does all of her fractal manipulations using the Photoshop computer application. “I like to push the edges of things,” she said, bumping up the colour on certain parts of a pattern, or highlighting a particular shape.

“The computer is just a tool, like a paintbrush,” said Johnson. “You still have to have the skills to make (an image) look a certain way — and a good eye.”

Johnson, who mostly works in photography, although she majored in sculpture at the Alberta College of Art and Design, has created abstract images that sometimes appear to vibrate in the boundaries between complementary colours.

Her Alberta Clipper piece is a subtle melding of oranges, reds, purples and greens. Her Blue Flame work appears feathery, while the sharp-edged Phoenix Rising looks almost psychedelic.

Eliot-Los’s Sacred Illumination design, highlighted with gold leaf, resembles a vaulted cathedral ceiling. Her Two-Fold Iterations No. 1 appears to mimic the designs on a peacock feather, while Aureole looks like a batik print.

Eliot-Los hope viewers will walk away from the exhibit with an appreciation of this very intricate, yet “democratic” art form that’s accessible to everyone.

“I primarily hope people enjoy it,” and see the beauty of abstractions, said Johnson.

Fractals Infinitum continues to April 29.


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