Skip to content
"Review: Qualia: Geometric Paintings by James Flynn," Gambit

"Review: Qualia: Geometric Paintings by James Flynn," Gambit

June 23, 2014

By D. Eric Bookhardt on a new show at Callan Contemporary.

William Blake once opined that it is possible to "see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour ..." In his poem, "Auguries of Innocence," he harked to the sages of antiquity, who saw the repeating patterns of the natural world as a kind of sacred geometry that contained the secrets of the universe. But Blake's contemporaries often were more likely to see the natural world as fodder for smoke-belching factories. In more recent times, physicists have rediscovered that nature's geometric patterning actually does contain the secrets of the universe after all, and that ongoing counterpoint between technology and metaphysics is reflected in James Flynn's seamlessly pristine yet near-hallucinatory paintings.

Comprising intricate, symmetrically patterned lines rendered in richly hued pigments, they range from austerely minimal compositions to dazzling visual puzzles that trick the eye into seeing luminous depth where only flat surfaces exist. Consequently, they often resemble holograms that change in color and form when viewed from different angles.

Olam Atzilut (a Kabbalist term for emanation) is an arrangement of concentric circles that suggests a shimmering bull's-eye rendered in burnished brass but actually is just a painted panel. Concentric circles become even more illusionistic in Syzygy (a celestial navigation term for alignment), where their overlapping forms seem to shimmer like a virtual reality rendition of a soap bubble floating in space. Flynn's most visionary work, The Pareidolic Dream of the Lion, (pictured) makes extensive use of obsessively painted moire patterns deployed as a kind of Rorschach test that turns the viewer's gaze inward. The need to make sense of ambiguity causes the subjective nature of our imagination and preoccupations to influence how we interpret what we see (as the term "pareidolic" suggests). In this uniquely surprising exhibition, Flynn takes us to the far horizons of perception, returning us to that sublime metaphysical realm where art, science and magic are united and cohesive once again.

"Review: James Flynn's Quantum Noûs at Callan Contemporary" Gambit

"Review: James Flynn's Quantum Noûs at Callan Contemporary" Gambit

Quantum physics visualized as psychedelic art

by D. Eric Bookhardt

What does the Mississippi River have to do with quantum physics? That is a deep question. Neither is easy to fathom, but the easy answer has to be James Flynn. A former river pilot-turned-painter, Flynn's years spent deciphering the Big Muddy's inscrutable currents probably made it easier for him to relate to the physicists who spent decades investigating the elusive patterns of protons and particles on which quantum theory was based. In his paintings, the vortexes at the heart of quantum physics are dramatically represented in complex canvases that build on the 20th-century Op art legacies of Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley, while hinting at the peculiar visual parallels that quantum physics shares with the mind bending visual puzzles and black-light posters of the psychedelic 1960s.

In fact, graphical representations of the elusive Higgs boson particle that validated quantum theory at the Hadron particle collider in 2012 can look weirdly like the psychedelic patterns popular with the LSD generation as we see in Flynn's Eigenstate V Ultraviolet (pictured). Albert Einstein's quantum breakthrough occurred when he discovered that electromagnetic waves also could resemble particles, and Flynn's vividly luminous Pierrot and Harlequin at the Pareidolic Masked Ball celebrates that playful shape-shifting quality by relating it to the popular clown characters featured in the comical masked theater performances of 17th-century Europe. But the cultural history of shape shifting really dates back thousands of years to the esoteric Asian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism in which deities, like those of the classical Greeks, could assume various guises even while representing aspects of ancient wisdom — a sensibility embodied in the undulating interwoven geometry of Flynn's Heart Sutra — Form is Void and Void is Form. If that sounds confusing, it is really not all that different from the versatile digital technologies we take for granted every time we pick up a smartphone. Flynn just illustrates, brilliantly and vividly, the reasons why nothing ever is entirely what it seems.

Back To Top