A Pattern Language

Installation, 28' x 36'
Plaster, resin, steel, plywood, tree trunk, custom mechatronic drawing device, sheetrock, sumi ink.

More images on Flickr
Video on Vimeo


'To imitate the Chinese...' Matisse says.

'I have shown you, haven't I, the drawings I have been doing lately, learning to represent a tree, or trees? As if I'd never seen or drawn a tree. I can see one from my window. I have to learn, patiently, how the mass of the tree is made, then the tree itself, the trunk, the branches, the leaves. First the symmetrical way the branches are disposed on a single plane. Then the way they turn and cross in front of the trunk...Don't misunderstand me: I don't mean that, seeing the tree through my window, I work at copying it....I have to create an object which resembles the tree. The sign for the tree, and not the sign that other artists may have found for the tree: those painters, for instance, who learned to represent foliage by drawing 33, 33, 33, just as a doctor who's sounding you makes you repeat 99...This is only the residuum of the expression of other artists. These others have invented their own sign...to reproduce that means reproducing something dead, the last stage of their own emotion...'

'...and the residuum of another's expression can never be related to one's own feeling. For instance, Claude Lorrain and Poussin have ways of their own of drawing the leaves of a tree, they have invented their own way of expressing those leaves. So cleverly that people say they have drawn their trees leaf by leaf. It's just a manner of speaking: in fact they may have represented fifty leaves out of a total two thousand. But the way they place the sign that represents a leaf multiplies the leaves in the spectator's mind so that he sees two thousand of them...They had their personal language. Other people have learned that language since then, so that I have to find signs that are related to the quality of my own invention. These will be new plastic signs which in their turn will be absorbed into the common language, if what I say by their means has any importance for other people...'

'The importance of an artist is to be measured by the number of new signs he has introduced into the language of art...'

- Matisse in conversation with Louis Aragon, 1943

'If we study Japanese art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophical and intelligent, who spends his time how? In studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. In studying the policy of Bismarck? No. He studies a single blade of grass.

But this blade of grass leads him to draw every plant and then the seasons, the wide aspects of the countryside, then animals, then the human figure. So he passes his life, and life is too short to do the whole.'

- Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his sister, 1887


Special thanks to: John Benson; MAE team Joshua Munoz, Hiram Jacobo, Duke Degen, and Monique Goeders; my advisor Kyong Park and committee Amy Alexander, Jennifer Pastor, and Nathan Delson; Sadie Barnette; Liz Chaney; Eddy Huang; David Kim; and David White.