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Penrose and Escher

Post #1408 • October 21, 2009, 8:18 AM • 17 Comments

Discover Magazine interviews physicist Roger Penrose.

So I assume your father helped spark your discovery of Penrose tiles, repeating shapes that fit together to form a solid surface with pentagonal symmetry.
It was silly in a way. I remember asking him—I was around 9 years old—about whether you could fit regular hexagons together and make it round like a sphere. And he said, "No, no, you can't do that, but you can do it with pentagons," which was a surprise to me. He showed me how to make polyhedra, and so I got started on that.

Are Penrose tiles useful or just beautiful?
My interest in the tiles has to do with the idea of a universe controlled by very simple forces, even though we see complications all over the place. The tilings follow conventional rules to make complicated patterns. It was an attempt to see how the complicated could be satisfied by very simple rules that reflect what we see in the world.

The artist M. C. Escher was influenced by your geometric inventions. What was the story there?
In my second year as a graduate student at Cambridge, I attended the International Congress of Mathematicians in Amsterdam. I remember seeing one of the lecturers there I knew quite well, and he had this catalog. On the front of it was the Escher picture Day and Night, the one with birds going in opposite directions. The scenery is nighttime on one side and daytime on the other. I remember being intrigued by this, and I asked him where he got it. He said, "Oh, well, there's an exhibition you might be interested in of some artist called Escher." So I went and was very taken by these very weird and wonderful things that I'd never seen anything like. I decided to try and draw some impossible scenes myself and came up with this thing that's referred to as a tri-bar. It's a triangle that looks like a three-dimensional object, but actually it's impossible for it to be three-dimensional. I showed it to my father and he worked out some impossible buildings and things. Then we published an article in the British Journal of Psychology on this stuff and acknowledged Escher.

Escher saw the article and was inspired by it?
He used two things from the article. One was the tri-bar, used in his lithograph called Waterfall. Another was the impossible staircase, which my father had worked on and designed. Escher used it in Ascending and Descending, with monks going round and round the stairs. I met Escher once, and I gave him some tiles that will make a repeating pattern, but not until you've got 12 of them fitted together. He did this, and then he wrote to me and asked me how it was done—what was it based on? So I showed him a kind of bird shape that did this, and he incorporated it into what I believe is the last picture he ever produced, called Ghosts.




October 24, 2009, 12:15 PM

OK, I think it's pot time:

Shigaraki 1
Shigaraki 2
Shigaraki 3

Note that there is no applied glaze or decoration here. The effects seen are due to the interaction of the flames and flying ash in the kiln with the natural properties of the clay. I think it's very cool.



October 24, 2009, 12:23 PM

More pot:

Karatsu 1
Karatsu 2
Karatsu 3
Karatsu 4
Karatsu 5



October 24, 2009, 2:34 PM

Both seem very fine, Jack. My initial reaction favors the black/white one because of the dramatic contrast, but I bet I'd come to like both equally in time.



October 24, 2009, 2:54 PM

The 'face' in the first one: a furious samurai, the black line coming from the mouth a fierce declaration.



October 24, 2009, 7:15 PM

I like both very much. The problem is that I'm getting so used to pots that are deformed or irregular that perfectly shaped, geometrically correct pots are starting to seem wrong somehow.



October 25, 2009, 10:42 AM

nice stuff jack.

new music discovery, "1952 vincent black lightning" by richard thompson live seattle 1990.



October 25, 2009, 11:28 AM

1, did you happen to catch Del McCoury's take on that while you were at it? Or Restless Kelly's? For me, McCoury's is the most soulful. But that jis' might be a Southern thang.



October 25, 2009, 3:45 PM

The Road Goes On Forever by Robt. Keene in 1989 is like Thompson's song, written about the same time, with the same chivalric underpinnings and emerging from the exact same musical heritage, but Keene washes the genteel patena away under the cold tap of blunt, hard, right here and right now. Also, Keene tells us that Sherrie moved on. But what became of Thompson's Molly?

Keene's song has been immensely popular with Texans for two decades. It endures around here the same way the myth of the Lake Dallas Gang (Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker) does, because it alludes to an abiding corner of the spirit of this place. Though the wildness of it is perfectly familiar to and beloved by native Texans, it likely is an acquired taste for many.



October 25, 2009, 3:46 PM

This should have gone on the hand-axe post, but, I noticed Dutton is on the advisory board of Contemporary Aesthetics, which I've never read, but thought some of you may have, or may want to check out.



October 25, 2009, 4:04 PM

The firing pattern in the Shigaraki could almost be a Rothko. Jack, have you taken a basic wheel throwing class before? Now would be a good time. All sorts of details will start jumping out at you once you've handled the clay, even briefly.

CA is produced by my alma mater. Maybe I'll look into it.



October 25, 2009, 5:37 PM

I was born in Shigaraki -- lovely place.



October 25, 2009, 5:49 PM

Yes, Franklin, the AbEx aspect struck me also. I've never taken a pottery class; I expect it could be very interesting, though I have no illusions about my creative abilities.



October 25, 2009, 6:06 PM

A rather different pot, porcelain with a celadon glaze:




October 25, 2009, 6:17 PM

i thought that shigaraki had a gottlieb like motif.

tim i did listen to a few other versions of 1952.. and i liked the one i posted best, nice guitar and strong masculine vocals.



October 25, 2009, 6:40 PM

Leave it to a veteran representationalist to see a face in a Rothko/Gottlieb. But I've always enjoyed Rothko as a sort of landscapist.

1, I was unable to hear the version you linked to. It seemed no longer to be available.



October 25, 2009, 7:03 PM

Gottlieb is apt as well.

Jack, if you go in assuming that you're going to throw away everything you make, you'll have a fine time, and it will give you tactile information about, say, what makes for a good wall or a good foot.



October 26, 2009, 8:37 AM

Yeah, Franklin, I was tempted to scoff at first when I read of a "peer reviewed" academic visual art journal (with peers like that, who needs enemies?), but when I saw the Dutton and RISD connections, I thought it just might not suck completely, and moreover, would suck a lot less if you, or opie, or John, or Jack, etc. were ever contributors to such a publication.



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