The following was written for Compendium, an exhibition that details the interchangeable qualities of art and science. The artists featured in the exhibition are firmly planted in both disciplines.
On view from October 4 – December 27, 2015 at Islip Art Museum in East Islip, New York.
Abstract Expressionism took hold of the New York art scene following the Second World War. This movement created a new form of abstract art, one loosely defined by shared interests rather than shared technique. Such artists as Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, and Robert Motherwell worked in tension as Abstract Expressionists, a categorization they simultaneously loathed and utilized. Though their styles varied considerably, each painted in celebration of pure expression, spontaneous gestural marking, individuality, and the unconventional.
“I am nature,” Jackson Pollock famously cried when questioned if he painted from nature. Not relying on figural content, he laid his canvases upon the floor and worked over them, dripping paint in a frenzy that only made sense once he was finished. In his works, the dripped lines fly across the full canvas, their circuitous marks skipping off the edge only to enter again at an unexpected angle somewhere else.
Jackson Pollock is renowned for painting his own movements; he captured his expressive gestures with the force of gravity as his partner. As he worked over the wet paint, his hand and footprints sometimes left a permanent record of his presence as creator.
Though Pollock’s action painting is no longer considered rebellious by today’s standards, the exploration of indexical markings and spontaneous gestures continues to yield surprising results. Take, for example, Mark Nystrom’s Wind Drawing series. Since 2005, the artist has explored tracing the movement of wind in ways that turn Pollock’s impatient explanation, “I am nature,” on its head. Nystrom’s work explores the unending question of how to make the invisible visible. Through the interpretation of data, his series invites the wind itself to create expressive drawings.
The project began as an attempt to record a day’s wind conditions. To do so, Nystrom outfitted a pen with sails and suspended it over paper, documenting the path of air currents via the pen’s tip. Several of these original drawings resemble an eye with a pupil looking outward, the wind’s force drawing circular pathways with a heavy hand that only occasionally jerks out with anxious, exploratory lines.
After these initial experimentations, Nystrom ventured into more accurate data collection. In partnership with the SP Weather Station in 2009, the artist set up a wind vane and anemometer that fed data into a Basic Stamp microcontroller connected to a computer. Once a second for an entire month, data was collected that allowed Nystrom to better record the direction and speed of the wind. Using this data, he digitally marked how a day’s wind conditions would push a singular point across paper. The drawings that ensued are filled with obsessive strokes that jet out and blur, yet maintain a fairly cohesive beehive shape. Shading gives the drawings a hazy persistence of movement that is punctuated by sharp, precise lines. Repetitious strokes darken back and forth across the page, yet much like Pollock’s drips, it is nearly impossible to follow a single pathway. Instead we are left with a confusing tangle that depicts movement over an extended period of time. Thanks to Nystrom’s unique technique, the wind leaves us with drawings that, though digital, maintain each unpremeditated line in a way that feels hand drawn.
While Nystrom’s Wind Drawings technically serve as an exploration of data visualization, they also mark the gestures of the wind. Like Pollock with gravity, Nystrom partners with the force of wind to record expressive gestures; his work shows how it moves a pen across paper. If the wind were an artist, these are the marks that it would make. Like the Abstract Expressionists, the wind is an action painter.