Think of the body of mathematics as the unfinished rule book of nature. Just as there is beauty in nature, there is also great beauty in mathematics. It is a conceptual beauty that time and again translates into visual or audial beauty.
While keeping simple mathematical sequences and data in mind, Mahmoud Hamdani creates minimalist abstract art by bringing order and chaos and the abstract and the concrete together in his work. Mr. Hamdani’s art reminds us that not only will these contrary concepts always co-exist, but also when brought together they can create great beauty and deeper understanding of our world.
How and why do you connect math with art?
I don’t. They are already connected, mostly in ways that we don’t know. Think of the body of mathematics as the unfinished rule book of nature. Just as there is beauty in nature, there is also great beauty in mathematics. It is a conceptual beauty that time and again translates into visual or audial beauty. I am not a mathematician. I’m just lucky enough to have had a short glimpse into the vast beauty of that world. The little math that I consciously use in my art is quite rudimentary. But much of my work remind viewers of mathematics. I suppose some, because of their geometric patterns, others due to their rhythmic nature. My works in Requiem are often cited for their visualization of the dynamics of order and chaos. Traces bring to mind fractals. Works in Odes look methodical and calculated. In Clash I use data.
What is your process? How do you begin with the math and map that into your final works of art?
I rarely do a precise calculation of the pattern of my work beforehand. Only a few of my works are directly based on simple mathematical concepts. Sometimes the end result evokes the precision that one generally associates with mathematics. And at times, the geometric nature of some of my works remind one of the methodical approach one uses to solve a math problem. But, for the most part I give shape to images that dance in my mind or discover those images by tinkering.
Do you incorporate statistics into your work as well? In Clash, it seems as if you took statistics that the toll of war in the Middle East has taken and then transferred those numbers into art.
I use data in the series Clash. Years ago I was an actuary. I used data to make projections. Data is neutral. However, how one organizes and presents data can be both beautiful and meaningful. It can also be deceitful, but that’s another matter. All the works in clash involve some mundane data which I use to create abstract art. Our age is in part shaped by clash of parallel worlds, such as faith and reason. Clash mirrors that reality by bringing the parallel realms of abstract and concrete together in a clash. The works all appear as abstract and, hence, reassuring. But their title reveals a harsh reality behind that seductive appearance. Just as in any game of seduction and betrayal, the more enticing the seduction, the deeper the betrayal is felt. It seems as if I am purposefully undermining my work and mocking the audience. But that’s how betrayal works.
The minimalist artist, Brice Marden did a series of drawings and paintings called the Cold Mountain, that have a similar pattern idea, or informal procedure, as some of your work has. What do you think of Brice Marden and has his work been an inspiration to you?
I know and admire Brice Marden’s works including the Cold Mountain series. I gather you are referring to my Endless Roads series. It seems as if we use the same language to write our own poetry. There are other artists whose works I like. At the very top is Fred Sandback. I remember the first time I saw his work at DIA in New York it was like a revelation. Others include Francis Bacon, Agnes Martin, Mark Lombardi, Clyfford Still and Franz Kline.
While some of your work seems to be organic, other pieces, such as your Odes and Clash series, seem very structured. Can you explain the dichotomy in your work and how it reflects who you are, as the artist?
Dichotomy is an apt word. I am flattered by its implications. I talk to young artists frequently and always remind them that it takes courage to be an artist, not talent. “Try to cultivate the former and the latter will follow,” I tell them. I detoured through that story because I believe an artist should not shy away from pouring it all out. An artist has to trust all the voices within and give expression to them. Doing all the works that I do, organic or otherwise comes naturally to me. I’d like to think that the collection of these works represent the duality that is part of innate human nature.
You have five collections, Requiem, Traces, Odes, Endless Roads, and Clash. All of your collections are ink on paper except for Clash. What mediums did you use in this series and what made you veer from ink on paper?
Art is a visual statement. Just as in any other statement, it’s most effective when it’s constructed efficiently. I believe, in art as in life, one should do as much as possible and as little as necessary. In my drawings I use black ink on paper because that’s all I need to make my statement. I use silk, upholstery, wood and paint in Clash because it makes my statement more effective. I also think that part of the fun of being an artist is engagement with materials and learning new technics. I had to dabble in quilting and upholstery to do Clash. It was fun.
In Traces, you blow the ink on the paper to create the art. I imagine that requires a great deal of patience. What is that process like for you?
The biggest challenge in Traces is to remain detached from a specific outcome while pursuing it at the same time. Things rarely work as I want them to. But it’s the little accidents in the process and how I work with them that define the final outcome. I should remain open to these accidents and not give up. All of my works require patience. But I don’t think that sets me apart from other artists. To be an artist one needs to be patient. One also needs to have passion and know many things.
The newest collection you are working on is titled the Fibonnaci Project, based on the Fibonacci Sequence, created by the thirteenth century mathematician, Leonardo Fibonnaci. The sequence begins with 0 and 1, then each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two, hence, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … Why does the Fibonnaci sequence speak to you? And again, how will you map or transfer these numbers into your art?
The Fibonacci sequence is an elegant and simple mathematical series that appeals to everyone in one form or another. I use it to create simple visual patterns. But the mystery of it is that if I get the numbers wrong, the pattern is not visually pleasing. Which goes to tell you there are rules in nature. Rules that we follow without being aware of them.
What type of mediums will you be using in the Fibonacci collection?
Will some of your Fibonnaci sculptural paintings be very large in size?
I make them as small as 2’ x2’ to as large as my budget allows.
Specifically in your Requiem and Fibonnaci collections, it seems as if there is an element of calligraphy in your work. Some of the works are also based on Fibonacci series. Is calligraphy something that you connect with numerals and incorporate into your art?
I don’t think of calligraphy when I do my work. But there is a strong element of it in Requiem. I gather you are referring to using Fibonacci patterns in some of my works in Requiem. I specially like those works. Because the original pattern is absolutely precise. But the process is purely organic.
More of Mr. Hamadani’s work can be seen here
Mahmoud Hamadani’s works have been shown at The British Museum, The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, as well as numerous solo and group exhibitions in New York, London, Dubai and Hong Kong. He is a recipient of Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant.
Hamadani earned a BA in Mathematics from State University of New York and a Masters degree in Public Administration from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
He was born in Iran and lives and works in New York City.