East City Artnotes: The Art of Allen Hirsh at Foundry Gallery

Zinnia Cubed
Allen Hirsh
Mathematically Transformed Image on Photo Paper
39 x 49
Image courtesy of the artist.

Allen Hirsh’s current exhibition on display at Foundry Gallery in Shaw is an unusual juxtaposition of science and beauty.  Armed with a PhD in biophysics, the artist views the natural world through a mathematical filter, transforming prosaic still-life scenes (think flowers, building facades) into multilayered abstractions endowed with a sense of fluid motion.  The eleven large works on display (more are located in a nearby flat file) present a riot of color that attempts to breathe a sense of artistic wonder into the sometimes incomprehensible world of mathematical theory.

Hirsh’s interest in the world around him begins close to home (a vase of flowers in his mother’s apartment) and travels to planets in distant solar systems. Images capturing elements of these scenes are processed through software programmed with mathematical equations of his own design to tease out abstract patterns.  In a few instances, such as with the peaked roof in Chagall’s Cafes or the reclining form in The Blue Spark Nude, the viewer can just make out the original source material.  Most images though reveal a kaleidoscopic world of cascading colors that push the original images into new realms.

Jewel Bee Mimic
Allen Hirsh
Mathematically Transformed Image on Photo Paper
44 x 43
Image courtesy of the artist.

In broad strokes, the exhibition dwells mainly in the world of abstraction.  This observation is especially acute in more painterly works such as Zinnia Cubed which distills a humble flower into blocks of pure color or Lovers Lane on Mu Arae d where the surface of a distant planet is imagined in swirls of greens and pinks.  Here too, the viewer will notice how the swaths of color begin to layer over one another, as if attempting to capture brushstrokes in digital form.

The boundaries of abstraction begin to be pushed in interesting ways in images where mathematical manipulation becomes more evident. Improbable Baobabs and Chrysalid Emergence use vaguely botanical forms as source material to create images whose coloration suggest languid, almost sensual bodies.  Here Hirsh creates a visually interesting push-and-pull between the underlying rigidity of the mathematical structure and the flowing movement implied by the high-heat colors.

Two works become slightly encumbered by their artistic references.  Kaleidoscope à la Chuck Close and Jeweled Bee Mimic, recalling Chuck Close and Gustav Klimt respectively, subtly encourage visual comparisons to their artistic predecessors rather than speaking extemporaneously as works unto themselves.  That said, these works may also encourage the viewer to think about those predecessors in a more structured, mathematical way.  In any event, the artist’s notion that the relationship between math and art can be symbiotic rather than inimical is on vibrant display.  Hirsh taps into the visual poetry underlying mathematical structures, demonstrating that beauty may be found in the most unusual places.

The Art of Allen Hirsh is on view through July 30, 2017.  For more information, visit the Foundry Gallery’s website here.

Banner image: The Blue Spark Nude (detail). Image courtesy of the artist.

Eric Hope
Authored by: Eric Hope

Eric Hope is a curator and writer based in Brookland. He moved to Washington DC in 1997 and a twist of fate found him a volunteer marketing job at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. In 2009, after ten years of marketing work at large museums in DC he moved into the realm of curating, staging a variety of solo, duo and small-group shows for the Evolve Urban Arts Project. He currently freelances as a curator and writes about local artists and the DC arts scene for a variety of online publications. Originally from Missouri, Hope holds degrees in International Relations and Public Service Administration from DePaul University in Chicago.