Written for Culture24
Exhibition: Keith Tyson – Cloud Choreography and Other Emergent Systems, Parasol Unit, London, until November 11 2009
It goes something like this: n pigeons/a non-graceful tree of 2n generations where each gen has r vertices and then has r+1 edges and r and n are random integers within the limits (0<n>5) (1<r>9). The work is called Operator Painting: n Pigeons and a giant painting of 1 bird accompanies the equation.
Keith Tyson’s new Operator Paintings are characterised by a mix of science and surreal humour. Numbers and words appear as important as images and many are written with the precision of a signwriter. Pictorial elements are rendered with the functionality of a text book.
Indeed the first Operator Painting is entirely typographic. Large Abstract relies on mental imagery, building a narrative out of arbitrary phrases such as “a half buried tile” and “chlorinated eyes”. Poetic fragments revolve around another dense equation involving pi, cos and theta.
Each of these pictures has its own formula. The relationships look like nonsense and it would be easy to dismiss them as satire. But there’s an air of intelligence and surprise about the rules which suggests they carry their own meaning, at least as far as Tyson is concerned.
In the wider context of the exhibition, his interest in science goes beyond a sense of fun. It has also led to the discovery of a new technique. The Nature Paintings variously resemble mineral, brain tissue, lava and aerial photography. They use paint, pigment and an innovative chemical reaction on aluminium.
The Fractal Die sculptures also call attention to the creative role (or roll) of chance. These are blocky 3D chaos patterns; the primary colours and 90 degree angles suggest an explosion in a Lego factory.
The show’s eponymous painting group is Cloud Choreography. In style they move from fresco-like study of heavenly fluff to photo-realist panels depicting jet vapour. Mushroom clouds and globally-warmed tornadoes also feature. Clouds have lost their innocence, and guess what, so has art.