“Abstract Geometry”: The Book of Calculation, Reinterpreted as Modern Art

In case you’re not caught up on early 13th-century Italian mathematical texts, the new show at Rook & Raven Gallery—inspired by Leonardo Fibonacci’s book Liber Abaci, published in 1202—has a name that helpfully distills what the work is all about. “Abstract Geometry” features the work of three artists, Vanessa Jackson, Rupert Newman, and Vanessa Hodgkinson, whose shared focus on the use of shape, color, and composition is immediately apparent. But to understand the underpinnings of their work, and the gallery’s decision to pair them together for the exhibition, you have to go back to the Middle Ages, to Pisa, and one of history’s greatest mathematicians.

Liber Abaci (translation: “The Book of Calculation”) was Fibonacci’s seminal work. While it’s notable for several reasons, including the fact that it introduced Hindu-Arabic numeral systems to a Western audience, the curators at Rook & Raven are primarily interested in the connections Fibonacci showed between geometry and nature—and the way his text influenced future artistic practices. Where mathematics, art, and the natural world come together: it’s a theme that’s spectacularly rendered in Newman’s Icecap and Icecap Night (both 2014), in which geometric shapes and bold colors come together to create a crystalline effect that’s at once reminiscent of a snowflake, a glacier, and the prism created when sunlight or moonlight shines through an icicle.

Jackson’s work, in subtle contrast, puts the “abstract” in “Abstract Geometry,” with bold oil paintings like Fling (2013) and Flash Dance (2012). Hodgkinson approaches geometric concepts from yet another angle, with delicately patterned gouache-on-paper works like Melancholic Thread (Recto & Verso) and Vertical Thread (Recto & Verso) and the metallic oil and gouache on wood piece Give You My Lovin’ (all 2013). Such pieces are abstract indeed, in comparison with more literal portrayals of geometry in nature, as in Newman’s Shimmy (2014), depicting the symmetry of a flower in close-up detail. But the works are all tied together both visually and conceptually—representations, as the gallery aptly points out, of the past, and of long-ago discoveries, reinterpreted as works of modern art.

—Bridget Gleeson

Abstract Geometry” is on view at Rook & Raven Gallery, London, Nov. 21–Dec. 20, 2014.

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