Calligraphic Rhythm

It has always seemed to me that the forms and patterns of the physical universe – which, I suppose, is a reflection or expression of the metaphysical universe and its laws – hold great spiritual significance, and therefore rich artistic potential. Nowadays art and religion seem usually to operate in different universes, even though they inhabit the same one, but the traditional art of every culture was born out of a need to address humanity's place in all of creation.  Whether neolithic Venuses or Tibetan mandalas or Mayan calendars or Nativities, it comes down to the same thing, in essence.  In the modern age, science has taken over much of religion's role, by revealing the material facts of existence in every field.  Science is largely about observation and measurement, and so imagery of all kinds as become indispensable both in research and in communicating what scientists have to say.  From an early age I was fascinated by scientific imagery, and these works owe something to that enthusiasm.

It's awkward to give a common name to these two "categories" of images, but they are grouped together due to their obvious affinities.  While the photographs of "Anthology and Rhythm" do not have the depth of pictorial space that classic still-life pictures have, they are a sort of view camera still-life photography, very broadly defined, just the same.  Those of "Minimalist Textures", on the other hand, are clearly over the line, and no longer still life, even though the view camera is used, and the subject is created or prepared with a similar degree (fairly extreme) of care and deliberation.  The difference is mainly in the degree of depth or relief of the subject matter, or in the relative homogeneity or heterogeneity of the composition.

Of "Anthology and Rhythm", a few images are in fact of a single item on a simple background, illuminated with a simple, soft light, despite the implication of a collection in the term "anthology".  (The background itself has a textural surface, which plays its own role in the composition.)  A few more are arrays of larger numbers of objects - usually flowers - in a way that begins to set up a rhythm among the objects.  They may be flattened or not.  Some others use still larger numbers of flowers, stalks, seeds and stems and so forth, to arrive at a visually more complex result.  The complexity, carried to an extreme, becomes uniformity, simplicity. 

In "Minimalist Textures", a similar spectrum between uniformity and differentiation can be discerned.  A few of the subjects in which paper pulp was used as a substrate (or medium) feature large forms - fronds or stalks - while others are more homogeneous.  Those in which acrylic medium was used to incorporate the vegetation layer by layer are, on the whole, more uniform as compositions, but still run a fair gamut from finely rough to roughly fine, from more to very homogeneous. Regardless of the method, the approach, or the compositional strategy, the intention is the same.

Here is an artist's statement I wrote some years back about these two bodies of work:

Anthology and Rhythm, Surfaces and Textures:  View Camera Photographs by Allen Schill

– “Anthology” comes from the old Greek term for a collection of flowers. Rhythm, for its part, is manifest throughout the universe in structures, cycles, and patterns of all kinds.  My fascination with pattern and texture inspired much of my early photographic efforts.  Eventually, however, the ubiquity of suitable subject matter curtailed my work of this type. It was so easy to find this material, that the sameness of the whole process soon bothered me.  I found other approaches and subject matters, but texture, pattern, and rhythm remained important elements in my work, even if they were no longer the subject itself.

– Using a view camera in the studio, as I have done to make these images, inclines one to assemble, create, or arrange a photograph, rather than to seek, find, and photograph an existing subject.  This procedure is more like painting than most photography, more synthesis than appropriation.  One makes photographs, as opposed to taking them.

– Most of the “anthologies” (most of the first ten or twelve images in this section of the website) are literally collections or arrangements of flowers, leaves, flower parts, and other vegetation.  They are easily identifiable as such, and such beauty as they have is, I suppose, easier to appreciate.  The usual dessication and decay in them reflect a morbid fascination of mine; the occasional lushness reflects a corresponding fascination with fertility and creation.

– The “rhythm” pictures that follow are clearly related even if their subjects are generally not flowers.  They emphasize pattern and texture somewhat more, and verge on abstraction.  At the end of the section they gravitate towards images of pure texture, with differentiation of form only on a smaller scale.  These last are quite austere, and require a certain minimalist taste.

– In the following section, “Surfaces and Texture”, the idea is pushed to a further extreme.  They also consist of bits of flowers and vegetation, but with these materials incorporated into a medium of paper pulp or acrylic polymer, then photographed.  Although my procedure was largely deliberate and non-random, my intention was to create something like the random arrangements which constantly occur in nature.  Among many other things, paintings like those by Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey have inspired me – although not realistic in the usual sense, they replicate the rhythms, patterns, and energy of life.

Allen Schill

© 2014 Allen Schill.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced or used in any form without prior written permission from the author.  Anyone is welcome to link to it or to  quote brief passages with attribution, but I would like to be notified.

Links to the relevant parts of this website:

Anthology and Rhythm

Minimalist Textures

Using Format