Non-repeating patterns draw the eye in 1978 exhibit

Blending mathematics and art to deceive, delight the eye

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Visitors who step into the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center until Aug. 31 may think they are seeing double as they look at Christine Romanell’s work in “Everything is Connected.” Romanell’s work explores patterns that do not repeat, many of which are found in nature. The art on display in the exhibit is presented in many mediums — paintings, light sculptures and installations hang on the gallery walls and around the room.

“It’s about patterns that don’t repeat,” Romanell said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 19. “I learned about the Penrose pattern, where something looks like it’s repeating but it’s not. There’s no way to predict how it will connect, so I worked my art into that.”

The Penrose pattern, created by mathematician Roger Penrose in the 1970s, uses two rhomb shapes that fill space with no gaps, but never repeats. In the 1980s, chemist Dan Shechtman created a metal alloy with an atomic structure that shared the Penrose pattern. Shechtman won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2011 for this work.

Romanell found Penrose’s and Shechtman’s work interesting and, upon further research, found the work of Paul Steinhart, a physicist at Princeton University who discovered a similar pattern in a meteorite on display in an Italian museum.

“It has order, but it doesn’t repeat,” Romanell said. “And I thought that was interesting.”

“Everything is Connected” aims to show how the pattern is found in daily life. Romanell was fascinated with the fact that a pattern found in outer space was not found on Earth unless manmade.

“It doesn’t exist on Earth,” she said. “But it does in a lab. It’s such a different form of matter, but we’re still using that in our daily life. The precision of that is so beautiful, all of that is all around us. I tried to isolate some of that and show that they connect.”

Despite the math and science influences found in the pieces in “Everything is Connected,” Romanell said she does not naturally gravitate toward numbers and test tubes.

“I actually failed algebra,” she joked. “For the work, I used the same rhombus but rotated it in different ways. I thought that was interesting. Maybe as a mathematician I would have known already, but I thought that was so cool. It’s completely experimental; if you had asked me two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have understood this.”

The rhomb shape gave Romanell more to work with when creating her art. She said there are different effects when working with square and rectangular shapes, which fit into a grid. When working with the rhomb, the grid can expand to be more diverse.

Nestled among the paintings in the show are light installations and sculptures. To build the larger pieces, Romanell began on the computer.

She designs the pieces and shapes digitally, and then has them cut before welding them together at her studio in East Orange. Often, she’ll make a smaller model out of cardboard or Styrofoam to ensure that the final piece will work. So far, everything has gone smoothly.

“It always fits together, but you never know,” Romanell joked. “But I’ve been lucky, it hasn’t happened yet.”

According to the artist, the strobe-light sculptures draw people into the exhibit. The lights display a variety of shapes flashing in patterns and colors, and Romanell said viewers always gravitate to them.

“I hope people look at how the world is connected” after viewing the exhibit, Romanell said, “and be a little more aware of what’s around them.”

Photos Courtesy of Christine Romanell

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