My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Thu, 28 Apr, 2005

A Rainy Day in Cambridge

This posting comes to you from the environs of Boston where I am currently at my folks' home celebrating my father's eighty-fifth birthday. He's managed to make it this far, proving that a bad attitude is good for you, the way sour berry juice is full of healthful anti-oxidants. There will be a tribute concert for him at our local arts center, along with an art show by my mother and a banquet in his honor at a downtown restaurant. Eighty-five years: it should happen to us, as the saying goes.

I spent today meeting a friend in Cambridge and then doing some shopping in the places I like best, of course bookstores and the famous Bob Slate's stationery store. I lived for 12 years in the Harvard Square area. I spent two of those years (1976-1978) in Harvard graduate school, two of the most miserable years I have ever had. After I left graduate school, I stayed on, living in a ramshackle apartment in a wooden duplex house just on the border of the campus, literally in the shadow of the Harvard Divinity School. During the next ten years (1978-88) I took various jobs around the area and did lots of freelance commercial and commissioned art work in the fantasy and science fiction field.

I knew back then that I lived near an old particle accelerator, since I passed it every time I walked through Harvard's back lots into the Square. I was told that it was no longer operating, but found out later that it was still working at that time, though only as a system for treating cancer and not as a research instrument. Those days were long before my current physics era, though I knew where the Harvard physics department was and often passed it on my travels. It was a white building near the Peabody Museum (which houses the famous Glass Flowers collection) and there was a maple tree in front of it. During the fall, this maple tree's leaves turned an incredibly brilliant red color and I used to say that since it was in front of the physics department it was probably radioactive, at least during its autumn brilliance.

Little did I know that in that white building during the '80s while I was there, some of the most cutting-edge, famous physics was being done. Guys were doing the work that would bring them Nobel Prizes while I was doing bad science fiction book and magazine illustrations. The tough men whom Gary Taubes talked about in his book NOBEL DREAMS were scribbling their equations on blackboards only a few hundred yards from my house. For all I know, I stood in line with them at WordsWorth Books or ate bratwurst next to them at the Wursthaus Restaurant. I didn't know anything about physics back then (OK, I still don't) though even back then I felt the yearning for it echoing dimly in my fantasy-ridden brain. I never, ever thought of just walking up to the physics building and, uh, going inside. What would that have accomplished anyway? Would breathing the same air as them have given me any scientific insights? It would take the power of a Tevatron to turn things over for me. I moved away in 1988, and have been coming back at least twice a year ever since. I don't always get to see my old house and its neighborhood, but I visit Harvard Square faithfully. The Wursthaus restaurant is long gone, and now WordsWorth is too, a great loss to Harvard Square. My other favorite bookstore, the wonderful "Cambridge Architectural Books," is also gone. I still find things to buy, though. Today I wandered through a sodden Harvard Square in heavy rain, soaked and burdened with my paper purchases. The cafe's were crowded, including people with laptops and cell phones, science fiction gadgets which we never conceived of back in the 80's. The characters and garb, though, were comfortingly familiar to me: gentlemen professors in tweed, lady professors and administrators in dull-colored, elegant knits with interesting hand-crafted jewelry, students in printed T-shirts and cargo pants, old hippies still wandering the stony streets of their stoned youth. None of the workplaces where I put in hours are still there, but the places of my memories are unmovable on those wet streets.

Why 2K

My "2K" picture is finished, and has been presented to the person who requested it. It is a birthday present for my father at year 85. The full title of "2K" is "Homage to Klee and Kandinsky," who are two of my father's favorite artists. Desiring to make of me a "serious" artist, my father asked that I compose two artworks in the style of each of these twentieth-century worthies. He gave me no further instructions so I went ahead and designed them with a concept that would put the two together in a single composition. The picture, painted in watercolor, consists of two colorful panels, each a foot square, mounted on a black background on which some texture and lines have been added. The design for each of them incorporates a letter K. Klee's K goes forward, while Kandinsky's goes backward. I added a mathematical theme from my own recent experience by making the two arms of Klee's K into two vectors. The resultant vector goes across a gap into Kandinsky's picture, and the resultant parallelogram of the vectors (in yellow) joins both the pictures. I added the mathematical data about the vector calculation on the picture. Both pictures work with geometric forms, though the "Klee" geometries are all straight lines while the "Kandinsky" forms have plenty of circles and curved lines. I did a lot of research looking at pictures of both of these artists so that I could create something in as close an imitation as possible. This is a standard art-school assignment, to paint something in the style of (whomever), so it was a problem I could solve. And you know I love solving problems.

My father's reaction was mixed at first. He hadn't expected that I would combine the pictures into one composition. He was also surprised that I used the letter K as a motif and that the colors were so bright. I defended my choice of a letter-motif, since Paul Klee often used not only letters but numbers and other symbols in his paintings. After some explaining, and lots of inspection, my father seems to have become more positive about his "2K" picture. Whether it will become part of his collection is still unclear. It will be displayed in a show coming up next month. But if the picture is bought by some other collector, my father assures me that there's always more art where that came from.

Now you have a chance to view "2K" 2. See for yourself what happens when I do "Homage to Klee and Kandinsky."

Posted at 2:01 am | link

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