I first got to know Christine's work through the recommendation of a fellow artist friend whom I was putting together a proposal with for SPRINGBREAK. One that was pretty awesome I must say, and Christine's work was absolutely perfect for the theme. I was blown away at first sight. I loved her method of controlling the medium and process, yet allowing for randomness and improvisation and experimentation within the work itself. When artists are able to pull off working in so many realms, I am always incredibly impressed. I think you'll all love her work as much as I do, it is fascinating!
Your work unmistakably has a reference to grids and patterns, but you have a more detailed and specific inspiration than that, one I feel many may not be familiar with, the aperiodic patterns. Can you tell us a little about what that is and when you first discovered these yourself? When did they start to consume your creative process?
I am interested in the origins of creation – how things come together, how they fall apart, and the emergent qualities of those interactions – which are the motivating factor in my art practice. Being acutely aware of pattern early in life initially led me to graphic design. My 20-year career working as a designer frequently involved designing patterns for various clients. Prior to 2011, my paintings were heavily patterned, but there was always something problematic about the repetitive mark-making in my work. Looking back, I know that I was searching for complexity by creating complication, but discovered that layering patterns didn’t offer me the results I was after. The solution was in finding the right pattern. I began researching a variety of patterns and came across a unique pattern that does not repeat, called the Penrose pattern. The distinctive property of aperiodicy in this pattern has fascinating connections to a variety of disciplines such as sacred geometry, theoretical physics and chemistry. Employing the Penrose pattern led me to rethink the origins of creation as well as the underlying structures that make up our reality.
Painting left me feeling confined by the edges of the canvas. The periodic repetition in my work would always infer an endlessness, but ultimately stop at the edge. The non-repeating Penrose pattern is different in that there is no defined edge. At first glance it looks as though it’s an ordinary repeating pattern, but upon a closer inspection, there is no repetition. It is the repetition of difference not the repetition of sameness. Based on five-point symmetry that completely tiles a plane with no gaps using only two rhomb shapes, there is never an absolute end. The tessellation rules are rather complex in that you cannot really predict with any certainty where the next tile goes outside of a local area. The Penrose pattern is technically a fractal and has the same proportions of the golden ration connected it closely with the Fibonacci Sequence. It’s the muse that keeps on giving. For example, there is a grid that can be used as map to tessellate the penrose pattern called the Ammann bars. In some of my installations, I use string to engage the space and bring the rhombs out of their two-dimensional domain using this grid.
One of the things that always strikes me about your work is your use of light. How it flows through the acrylic sheets, changes and alters, bends and behaves within your work. How do you go about creating these pieces?
I love to play with light. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand all the underlying physics, it seems magical to me. During grad school, I was working on an installation and I accidentally refracted light off of an acetate stencil. The projected light made a fascinating pattern. It looked very similar to the aperiodic patterns I was working with. If I had to describe it I would say that it looked like the nerve connections in the brain. I was hooked on working with light after that.
Through experimenting with various materials and light sources, I have found that LEDs give off the best reactions with neon plexi. These lights have a very intense hot spot unlike traditional bulbs that have a diffuse spread. The focused beam creates sharp shadows and dramatic refractions. I build my sculptures from shapes I have laser cut out of plexi glass. The neon shapes cast colorful and intense shadows. I can move the lights around to get different intensities and distorted forms from the original sculpture. Compositionally, I find that my focus quickly shifts to the formless forms and the sculpture becomes more of a tool. Someone once told me that I paint with light. Perhaps that’s partly true.
You have a unique way of turning what might otherwise be 2D into 3D, be that through panels and sheets to string, and light projections. How do you typically approach that aspect in your work, do you begin with one element or another typically? Do you start with a plan or let it grow organically?
I originally started with the 2D Penrose pattern but soon was searching for a way to progress to 3D. This led me to the quasicrystal, its 3-dimensional sibling discovered by a chemist in the 1980s. The quasicrystal is a crystalline structure that matches the Penrose tiling. Once considered impossible, this aperiodic crystal was first discovered in the lab and then later in a rare 4.6 billion year old meteorite. Current scientific research is focused on the unusual properties of this new form of matter concentrating on its thermal, electrical and light interactions. What I find especially interesting is that computer scientists are experimenting with its structure to form an artificial neural net for AI. I wasn’t that off when I saw what looked like nerve connections in the brain when the light danced on wall in grad school.
When looking for an idea, I will read scientific papers or a book about quasicrystals. I attempt to grasp a basic concept. This usually takes many read throughs since I’m far from a scientist. I explore what I’ve learned through making a model and then experiment from there, There are so many aspects to how these crystals form and the testing that goes into understanding them. For example, my piece “Quantum Bubbles” originated from the x-ray method to detect aperiodic diffraction patterns in quasicrystals. I was fascinated by the variety of dot patterns that could be found in a single crystal just by changing its orientation.
Your color choices are often vibrant, neon almost. Is there a specific meaning to this or is it a natural affinity? Do you ever change your mind, have to re-work a piece due to color choices?
Color is a vehicle to express the geometric connections. I can call out a specific aspect of a pattern by shifting color. I don’t give it a tremendous amount of thought. Color is intuitive. It feels right or wrong. The neon plexi has dramatic contrast which works well for demonstrating the substructures that I illustrate in my sculptures. When I paint I reference a palette I found in a science paper that illustrates the photonic band measurements in the subatomic structure of aperiodic alloys. Color must be a participant in the structure or it’s a wasted element. Some pieces I don’t use color at all, just clear plexi.
Let's chat about your routine a little, what's the first thing you do when you get to your studio, and what is the last?
I’m tremendously lucky to have an amazing space to make art. A group of friends from grad school and I rented out a raw 7,000-square-foot floor in the original Johnson & Johnson factory in East Orange, NJ. We built out 7 studios and joined a community of 40+ artists. When I arrive, I usually greet my studio mates and maybe have a cup of tea. We talk art, politics and share good recipes. After that I get to work. I don’t bring my laptop into the studio, so I can keep the focus on the physical aspect of what I have to do. I try to do all my digital work and online research outside the studio. When it’s time to go, I might go water the plants in the common kitchen area and then head home.
What do you do if you're feeling uninspired or in an artistic rut?
Read, read and read. You have to put in to get anything out. Expanding my mind is the only thing that will shake something new loose. I also will call artist friends into my studio to talk about the work and get feedback. Super-convenient that I have artists all around me in my space. Those conversations are invaluable.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Dorothea Rockburne’s work with number sets and geometry has been influential in my work. Teresita Fernandez’s installations and work with plexi are inspirational. I loved her show at Mass MOCA a few years ago. And last but not least, would be one of my early heroes, Joan Mitchell. I found a kindred spirit in her use of color and composition and still do.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events that you'd like to share?
I currently have an installation up at First Street Gallery in Chelsea. I will be up until August 10th.
To learn more about Christine and her incredible work, please visit her website here: https://www.christineromanell.com/