“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Karen Hochman Brown’s series, “Botanic Geometry,” is a vivid collection of digitally manipulated photographs, printed on aluminum, that invoke the detailed symmetry of crushed glass, reflected through the lens of a kaleidoscope. Even more, the intense vibrancy of the work brings to mind the cosmic patterns that we recognize as the mandala.
According to Carl Jung, the mandala is a vehicle through which those who are willing to pause long enough to access their true inner voice can become more attuned to understanding, a step toward accepting their place in the world. Likewise, Hochman Brown’s work speaks to her viewers in much the same way. Not only is each piece a reflection of the earth’s organic beauty, but the collection as a whole invites us to examine our true selves as well as our place in the cosmos.
The Forecast Is Fern is a resplendent piece, characteristic of Hochman Brown’s distinct process. Inspired by the photograph of a fern’s frond, the image is reminiscent of another iconic circle–the holiday wreath. While an outer ring reveals multiple fronds true to their original form, the inner patterns reveal individual blades, arranged side by side to create a starburst effect. Perhaps most intriguing is the center’s six-pointed, star-like formation, where what appears to be thin threads, woven together, are in fact disparate parts of the fern’s pale leaves, converging together. Subtle strokes of crimson and touches of violet throughout avail a schematic symmetrical pattern to the piece where a spiral pattern converges at its center, thus creating an omnipresent sense of continuous movement.
Again we see a six-sided star-like image in Erythrina on Fire. Given the frequent recurrence of the hexagon in nature, Hochman Brown’s use of this shape invites viewers to meditate upon the symmetrical order inherent among organic organisms. While this piece doesn’t reveal the actual shape of the erythrina tree’s flowers, it does embellish the flower’s exuberant palette. Deep reds, burnt oranges, and tawny yellows meld into distorted abstractions, reminiscent of draped velvet, sinuously splayed into evocative formations that bring to mind Georgia O’Keefe’s large scale studies of flowers.
Beyond the mystical draw of Hockman Brown’s works, her process is equally intriguing. With each piece, she begins by importing a photograph of a flower or other plant form into a modular graphics-synthesizer program where she can implement a variety of applications such as polar space, fractal space, assorted modulations, reflections, waves, distortions, and symmetry. These applications are what allow her to manipulate a single image into a number of kaleidoscopic compositions that she then layers, one on top of the other, while adding shadows and formations of light to create an illusion of depth.
In addition, Hochman Brown often adds small, spherical orbs to her works. In Orchids in Play, we see what look like green peas at various points throughout the piece featuring yet another six-sided configuration. Not only do these small colored circles add to the work’s symmetrical balance, but they remind us that every molecular object in flux is ultimately reliant upon the dot, thus no shape can exist without definitive points of reference.
Although this concept seems simple, it is also complex, an uncanny dichotomy that Hochman Brown aptly captures in this unique body of work. The mandala, in its most basic form, is nothing more than a mere series of circles, created from a template of symmetrically aligned dots. This is clearly apparent in Fiesta Rosa, one of the show’s larger pieces, measuring 36” x 36”. Upon close inspection, the viewer can see that each layer is connected by a sequence of equally spaced dots. However, the dots collectively instigate further study. Not only do they highlight each circle; they are the basis for each and every shape present. In addition to the hexagon, triangles, pentagons, parallelograms, and tetrahedrons augment the work’s prevailing orchestral chemistry.
There’s no denying that Hochman Brown’s work induces a semblance of calm in her audience. Her subjects, devoid of manipulation, remind us, if nothing else, of nature’s organic beauty. Yet, it is through her artistic lens that she initiates more than just an appreciation of nature. Rather, she urges us to contemplate and to consider all that surrounds us with the perspective that, no matter what one’s cultural background or religious belief, we are all connected to one another and, beyond, to the cosmos.
“Botanic Geometry” is on view until April 6th at the Crain Art Gallery, located at the Crowell Public Library in San Marino. For additional information about the artist, please visit her website at www.hochmanbrown.com