November 2013


Stephen Adams

Recent Work 2009-2012

Nov 5, 2013 – Dec 1, 2013

Preview Reception:
November 6th, 6-8 pm
First Thursday Reception: November 7th, 6-9pm
Artist’s Talk:
December 17th, 11am
The Serpent in the Golden Rectangle

Caveat: none of my recent pieces are illustrations or examples of the ideas mentioned in this statement. Rather, the ideas are after-the-fact attempts to describe or evoke some of my thoughts during the period I made the works. First comes the object, and then comes the attempt at conscious explanation. I don’t consider the artist necessarily authoritative in describing or criticizing the ideas inherent in his or her work.

Many of my recent works are constructed using the proportions of the Golden Rectangle in one form or another.

The sides of a Golden Rectangle are proportionally 1: ~1.618. The “magical” feature of this rectangle is when you remove a square portion from it, the remaining portion is also a Golden Rectangle, and when you remove a square from the second portion, another Golden Rectangle remains, ad infinitum.

These dimensions have intrigued artists and architects for centuries. Architects use these dimensions for windows that are supposed to be intrinsically pleasing to the eye. Painters have used this ratio in the dimensions for portraits. The exterior dimensions of the Parthenon form a Golden Rectangle.

By using the dimensions of the square as the radius of an arc on each of the smaller squares, one can draw, using a compass, a logarithmic spiral, which is one of the basic shapes of nature.

In all the multiplicity of natural forms there are only a handful of these basic shapes, including the logarithmic spiral, the serpentine or meander, and the fractal tree-branching form.  The spiral form is connected to ideas of infinity on both cosmological and microscopic levels. It can be seen in the shapes of galaxies and bacteria. Since there is this mathematical linkage to the concept of limitlessness, I wanted to use the Golden Rectangle consciously as a paradoxical or perhaps perversely limiting factor in the evolution of a given piece.

Some of the completed works started out in the following manner. First, I cut many rectangles of glass in the proportions of the Golden Rectangle. Then, I scored an arc or serpentine shape, for example, through each piece, then broke the glass along the score, so that from each rectangle I would have two pieces, each having one curved edge. I then stacked the glass vertically with the edges slightly offset, so that the edges of the vertical stack followed the same or similar curve used in scoring each individual rectangle. Then I laminate the pieces and grind and polish the edges, which is a very laborious process, taking many days, sometimes weeks. In other works, the components of glass and base have the proportions of a Golden Rectangle. In still another I cut many small glass rectangles in those proportions and stacked them like building blocks.

I have been using the serpentine shape in my work for a number of years. It is the form that flowing water assumes in its interaction with the land, because it requires the least amount of energy–it is the path of least resistance. Rivers and streams are vectors of erosion, as is the wind and the air shaping sand and earth. In a sense they are sculptural tools that shape the earth with water over time on a very large scale.

Our understanding of the mathematics governing these basic shapes, e.g., chaos theory, and fractal geometry—subjects of which I know admittedly very little—has advanced comparatively recently, during the second half of the 20th century. Before that, the older Euclidean geometry, of which the Golden Rectangle is part, had become more than just a mathematical tradition of our culture.  It had become emblematic of civilization itself, and embodied symbolically the values of order, reason, science, restraint, etc. The untamed world—the world of rushing water, hurricanes and tornadoes, vast mountain ranges—was viewed as the world of the Other, of the Romantic Sublime, a world opposite to order and reason. The serpent and other parts of this untamed world became associated with the irrational.  Chaos was viewed as irrational.

But today we understand that chaos theory describes the flow of water and complex weather systems. We know that fractal geometry describes the form of mountain ranges and the branching of trees and rivers. They follow mathematical rules as strict as Euclidean geometry. They no longer reside in the untamed, irrational part of the world. Still, there seems to be this tension in our stubborn consciousness between these two “poles” of the world, between the Serpent and the Golden Rectangle, between the irrational and the rational, between Apollo and Dionysus, and it continues to influence the way we perceive things, just as religious mythology profoundly affects us, even though we consciously discount it.

There are still these rich tangled skeins of symbolic and poetic associations and imagery to explore artistically between these two polar “opposites”. They continue to color our perception of the world, even though consciously we know they are not opposites at all, but are each embedded in the one world we perceive.

Since so many of my pieces are composed of glass, whose characteristics include clarity, linearity, weight, transparency, reflectivity, and fragility, I usually seek to exploit and emphasize these seductive, even hypnotic qualities. It is the perfect Apollonian medium, the perfect medium to describe the Euclidian world of the Golden Rectangle: light, order, reason, harmony, and restraint. Glass as a medium is seemingly “permanent” in that it isn’t subject to rot or decay. But it is very brittle and easily broken.

In contrast I have also been using within the same piece other materials suggesting disorder and decay, materials like rusty wire and nails, semi-decayed wood, crumbling concrete–materials having characteristics exactly opposite to those of glass. They are dirty, opaque, crude, amorphous, and inexact, and can allude to the darker, more resilient Dionysian aspects of life like dissolution and decay, which must be given their due.  Otherwise, we are in a state of denial about our own nature and the problems we face–in denial over the fact that the Serpent and the Golden Rectangle are of the same world, that the Serpent is in fact in the Golden Rectangle.