On Style 7

Surfing Squirrel by Maria K. Lemming

Surfing Squirrel by Maria K. Lemming


I Know What I Like — Or Do I? Part Three:

I may not always know why I like a given work of art, but I can usually tell when a given piece makes me simultaneously smile and think.

So, I’m on more sure footing on this outing. In the two previous posts, reflecting on work by Jennifer Stewart and Tina Oloyede, I was travelling in dim light without much of a trustworthy, critical GPS. I knew I didn’t much like the road fractal art is currently on: creating beautiful objects for their own sakes and systematizing such empty eyecandy as the apotheosis of fractal art through both Fractalbook high-schoolish clique commentary and the mostly prettified gunk factory-made by "winners" of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.

The fractal art I find exciting is often consciously processed in the direction of representation and can, broadly speaking, be "read" as a visual text — usually through the avenues of perceiving a narrative structure or through aesthetics via close scrutiny of how the piece utilizes design elements.

But there’s another puzzle piece crucial to today’s post, and it takes the form of a simple question. Why is fractal art ordinarily so humorless? Seriously. I mean, if it’s not bludgeoning viewers with strum und drang, it’s drably overreaching for profundity by being saddled with befogging titles that sound heavy but are merely an unfathomable or obscure lexicon. This predilection for sobriety and graveness also extends to the work of many new wave 3D fractal artists as well. Why do so many 3D affictionados seem content to staidly rebuild the halls of Montezuma or plumb the mecha-guts of steampunk machinery? Buoy up, boys.

Writer Anne Lamott once noted that "laughter is carbonated holiness." I think it’s time to pop the top and get real gone — somewhere past giggly but just outside spiritual.


I’ve been a smiling fan of Maria K. Lemming‘s fractal art since I first chanced upon it on Usenet in the late 1990s. No one else currently working in the discipline possesses a comparable and keen sense of recherché whimsicality. If, as Lenny Bruce once claimed, that laughter is "the only honest art form," then Lemming might be our purest genius.

Take Surfing Squirrel above (please!). The addition of a googly eye to the rodent form should come off like digital quackery; our own eyes should roll in response. Instead, the laugh lines around my eyes crater even deeper. The resulting transformation is beyond silly. It’s become somehow archetypal with the staying power and viral qualities of an Internet meme


which, of course, it is (even if the furry dude is technically water-skiing).

While you’re chuckling, you might overlook the precision of the piece’s composition. There’s energy everywhere. Note how the motion lines lift the tail off the board. Note how the waves, resembling the harmonic squiggles of voice recognition software, suggest a capricious sense of shooting the tube. The interwoven white threads in the "wave" evoke the froth of breaking whitecaps. The taut, horizontal lines rippling on the squirrel’s "fur" hint at both speed and tensity. Lastly, the fragmentized frame gives the entire piece a tilt-a-whirl, off-kilter ambiance that insinuates a gnawer wipe out is assuredly imminent.

Shy Sumo Wrestler by Maria K. Lemming 

Shy Sumo Wrestler by Maria K. Lemming

This work begins its rising mirth with the oxymoron of its title. What sport revels more in fleshly close encounters than sumo wrestling? How could any bashful athlete in this particular profession ever be competitive? There’s no hidey holes or panic room on a sumo mat. The two competitors are staggeringly exposed.

And in more ways than one. Those mawashis (the loincloth belts worn by the wrestlers) leave little to the imagination. In fact, the sport enjoys assaulting the eyes with plump, dueling buttocks (now there’s a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to use before) and bashing barrel chests. Given the high degree of body friction involved, the image could have easily veered off in a more titillating direction — perhaps something like the erotically-charged work of Karen Jones. But Lemming is more interested in a kind of enamored gleefulness. Her soft, rounded, feminine forms are not intended for arousal but are subtly used to suggest the girth and grace of the wrestlers.

Shy Sumo Wrestler shows that fractal art does not have to be intemperately processed to trigger a leap from abstraction to representation. What we have here is a cubist cut-up of a trial of strength by combat with ancient origins in ritual dance. Remarkably, the piece feels like a still life that’s fully in motion. It’s all backs and buttsguts and belts — beef and brawn. And, what’s most awe-inspiring, is that it’s grounded in the wry notion of one timid warrior misplaced in a world where vulnerability is terra incognita.

Lonely Girl and the Ship by Maria K. Lemming 

Lonely Girl and the Ship by Maria K. Lemming

Lonely Girl, a solitudinarian, who made her first appearance near the turn of the century, may be Lemming’s most enduring achievement — a fractal character who is every(wo)man. She’s endearing because she carries on in the midst of adversity. She’s courageous, faces her fears, and hangs in. But she has no companions to give her good cheer and boost her spirits. In the end, she discovers what we all know but fear to admit: we’re alone. In other words, she’s us.

Lonely Girl is trapped in an absurd existence of being inexplicably transported from one Fringe event to the next. No pattern for her ongoing transferrals is apparent. No explanation is provided as to the purpose of her reoccurring time-slip travels. Worst of all, she is forced to journey solo without the benefit of any comrades. No wonder she’s so lonely.

Here’s Lonely Girl considering a fresh fractal landscape. Zap. Here’s Lonely Girl on a Framed Road. Whoosh. Here’s Lonely Girl incarcerated in a lollipop. Zing. Here, in a personal favorite, is Lonely Girl meeting the New World. Bam. Here’s Lonely Girl confined in the Haunted House. Scared…and, as always, alone.

But the loneliest Lonely Girl of all is Lonely Girl and the Ship. Adrift without a life raft. Forced to tread water with only brots for arms. Doomed to bob atop the waterline while she waits for the welcome companionship of passing sharks. Poor thing. She can’t even go down with the ship. Even drowned company is better than none.

And that dingy, white-yellowish, nuclear flash sky is hardly reassuring. Even worse, the background could be a black hole of digital absence. The grim nothingness of empty pixels. Ultimate solitary.

Yes, Lonely Girl and the Ship would be the most lonesome, most melancholic fractal ever made…except…

…except Lemming, in her artistic wisdom and human kindness, made certain that Lonely Girl will never truly be completely lonely because…

…because you are spending time with her right now. Every viewer becomes her yokefellow.

She has us.


Next up in the series: Nothing.

How comments work: After the approval of your very first comment you will be able to post future comments immediately to any posting. Any username or fictitious email is good enough.

One thought on “On Style 7

  1. “Next up in the series: Nothing.” There speaks sadness.

    Terry (I’ve got the name right this time?), This is a fine series, the artists well chosen, your words perceptive and fine – but to end so abruptly! Tina’s work I knew reasonably well for last year I’d actually worked my way though her entire Rendo gallery), while Jenny has been the friendliest of people to me, and you’ve actually pointed me towards the work of Maria which previously was unknown.
    If anything is sorely needed in the fractal world it is for someone with a discerning mindset and with the verbal capacity to point others in the direction of quality and so nourish our judgements. This your series began to do. Still, the little is better than the unknowingness of “Nothing,” and I’ll try searching that little harder for myself.

    I wish you success in whatever trail you take.


Comments are closed.