FaeryRing by Jennifer Stewart
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I Know What I Like — Or Do I? Part Two:
I began recent entries in this series outlining with some certainty why I like certain fractal artists and then admitting my trepidations for being less sure as to why I’m drawn to the work of others. I acknowledged being drawn to fractals that can be “read” — that is, work transcending the commonly mass-produced style so prevalent in most fractal art: a beautiful but self-contained object.
However, like some literary texts, some visual texts are not easily decoded. How, exactly, does one go about “reading” them? Are there discernable, even multiple implied narratives undergirding a piece? Or is a work’s splendor ambiguous and slowly divulged through a scrutiny of aesthetical pleasures? Either way, one reads such images more with the mind than with the eye — until the mists burn off, the veil parts, or the curtain lifts.
As with Tina Oloyede, whose work I reviewed last time, much of the early art of Jennifer Stewart (jennyfnf on Renderosity) typifies mainstream Ultra Fractal sugary treats — “sheets in the wind, and rings of gold” to use Tim’s ever serviceable metaphors. But many of her more recent works, especially those using Talis variation formulas in Fractal Explorer, are terrific — commoving and arresting. In fact, the more Stewart steps out of her comfort zone, the more mesmeric her work becomes.
FaeryRing (above) is exquisitely composed and suggests multiple narratives. The most easily observable connection is to a literal fairy ring (aka elf circle or pixie circle) — a naturally occurring circular arc of mushrooms. In European folklore, fairy rings serve as entryways to elfin kingdoms (so don’t be suckered by those drop-down cemetery doorways in True Blood). An appearance of a fairy, pixie, or elf causes such rings to appear, but they last for only five days. However, if an observer is stealthful and patient, he or she may be able to capture a fae creature upon its return to the ring.
Stewart shows us only part of the ring, but the mushroom forms are clearly identifiable and aligned in a manner consistent with imagining the unseen completion of the circle. The fungal hues and striations impart further verisimiltude. The half-lit sky implies mushroom-finding prime time: dawn. Additionally, the grayish granules seen at the base of the mushroom stalks could suggest the dead or dying grass trenches sometimes found marking fairy rings. A viewer could, of course, stop at this juncture and be content to appreciate the piece as a lovely landscape-like rendition of a natural phenomenon.
There’s more, though. Upon closer examination, the fairies themselves appear in the ring. The mushroom sprouts modify into wings, and the stalks morph into gossamer gowns. The lead fairy stands sideways at the far right and faces a line of fairies placed with their backs to us. She holds a candle, and, by inference, so do the other fairies in the line. Note how carefully Stewart controls light and shadow; the illumination seems to flicker in all of the proper places — the upper tips of the wings, the bottoms of the dresses (especially nicely done on the lead fairy), and the uppermost layer of the ground.
And there’s still more. FaeryRing pulsates with observances of nature’s fertility — its organic vitality. The poet Dylan Thomas described this process in the title of one of his most famous poems as “The Force That Drives the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.” The sturdy, thick root form growing downward from the far left fairy cluster and running horizontally underground embodies such natural dynamism. Moreover, the root structure apparently also functions as a passageway from the elfin realm to our own. Now, click on the image, open it to full screen, and lean in a little closer to your monitor. Do you see several of the wee folk making their way through the tunnel?
A few Fractalbook commenters describe FaeryRing as magical, and, on this occasion, they’re not being hyperbolic. It is truly enchanting.
AllSaints by Jennifer Stewart
The overall composition of this piece dovetails nicely with its title. The texture mirrors the intricacies of stained glass, and the coloring (lush purples and browns but muted greens and yellows) is consistent with much classical religious iconography. Other design elements converge to nudge the work toward representation — tiled formations become ornate robes, circular backlit forms over head shapes suggest halos, and the downward points of inverted rhomboid forms even suggest hands folded in prayer.
The entire work brims with barely containable tension and frenetic activity as the various saints appear to struggle to break free from gravity’s restraints and begin their mass ascension into the heavenly “clouds” lining the top of the image. I’d like to imagine the two smaller forms near the upper-right corner are abstract cherubim assigned to escort the saints on their skyward trip to the Pearly Gates.
AllSaints is a wonderful ensemble of light, form, and color resulting in something rare: a truly spiritual fractal.
It’sALLLies by Jennifer Stewart
The Fractalbook comments on this piece gush over the soft lines and soothing pastels. One viewer even remarks: “It reminds me of gentle mists.”
It reminds me of the grotesque and malformed body horrors one commonly reads in the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft and sees in the films of David Cronenberg. Have the eyecandied assembly lines pumped so much saccharine slop into Fractalbooker’s lobes that they can no longer recognize the cognitive dissonance between a work’s title and its execution?
I’d argue Stewart has made a magnificent meta-fractal here. It has all the visually ornamental trappings of a rubber-stamped Fractalbook crowd-pleaser. Diffused focus. Chromatic color. Rounded, feminine forms. Stewart could have even slapped a sonorous-sounding but nonsensical Janet Parkeish title on this piece, and it would seem immediately fraught with weighty (but hollow) obscurities and certain to be a probable contender in the next BMFAC exhibition of candied concoctions.
But Stewart deliberately chose a title that cuts against the grain of the artwork’s style. Don’t be fooled, she seems to be saying. These gummi bear fractals polluting Fractalbook galleries like some sugar-glazed kudzu are ALL lies. They say nothing about the challenges and realities of our “meat lives,” as the cyberpunks like to say. Our bodies are beautiful, yes, but they eventually betray us. They cruelly turn on us. The vigor of youth decays steadily, incrementally. Our bodies — the ultimate epic fail.
Trust me. There’s something very wrong in Stewart’s pretty picture. A feminist reading might see this piece as a Rorschach for breast cancer. The shadings so admired by the commenters could well be lumps. The praised soft focus rounded forms could be emblematic of swelling. The attractive, vibrating, dark line accents could suggest the bombardment of radiation during chemotherapy.
If art is indeed in the eye of the beholder, then such is what I behold. Maybe Orbit Trap’s detractors are right when they’ve suggested in the past that I’m a despicably cynical person with an ugly personality. Of course, he’d see such negativity they’ll tell you.
Whatever. The terrifying beauty of It’sALLLies makes me very sad. And its beauty springs from its human condition subject matter and not from its mathematical mastery or algorithmic precision.
I once argued on this blog that beauty is not enough to push fractal art to the next level. I still believe that one function of fine art is to show us what we’d rather not see and feel changed enough ourselves to actively work for change in our own lives and surroundings.
Stewart’s image moves me more than any Race for the Cure ever will.
Up next in the series: Art by Maria K. Lemming.