In September of 2002, I was diagnosed with cancer, which my god daughter described as a ‘funny kind of lucky.’ That experience, and the subsequent journey, caused me to ask the universal questions, and created some kind of urgency as to the need to find some answers. It was very clear that I had a finite number of heartbeats left, and I was determined to make the most of my beats to discover some answers. The journey that I undertook was, and continues to be, personal. I started reading ‘everything’ and re-examining the verifiable and unverifiable data. Others had previously followed a similar journey.

“What is man? What meaning has his life? What is his origin, his condition, his destiny? To what extent is he a creature of forces beyond his knowledge and his control, the plaything of nature, and the sport of the gods? To what extent is he a creator who takes raw materials of existence, the heat of the sun, the stones and the trees and the soil, his very body and its organs, and refashions the world to which nature has bound him, so that a good part of it reflects his own image and responds to his will and ideal?”

“All the questions man asks about his life are multiplied by the fact of death: for man differs from all other creatures, it would seem, in being aware of his own death and in never being fully reconciled to sharing the natural fate of all living organisms. The tree of knowledge, with its apple that gave man awareness of good and evil, also grew a more bitter fruit man wrenched from its branches: the consciousness of the shortness of the individual life and the finality of death. In his resistance to death man has often achieved a maximum assertion of life: like a child at the sea’s edge, working desperately to build up the walls of his sand castle before the next wave breaks over it, man has often made death the centre of his most valued efforts, cutting temples out of the rock, heaping pyramids high above the desert, transposing the mockeries of human power into visions of godlike omnipotence, translating human beauty into everlasting stone, human experience into printed words, and time itself, arrested in art, into a simulacrum of eternity.”
- Lewis Mumford (1944), The Condition of Man

The Bible was a starting point for my journey, but it was not a new starting point, as I had been pondering many of the hard questions of good and evil, on life and death for some decades. It nonetheless was the reference point from which the reading was to spring. I took the view that all subjects were worth pursuing, and that in the time left I should attempt to gain an understanding of the principles that were the foundation of the knowledge that we possess in the 21st Century. The pursuit of that knowledge meant reading about the past – the history of where we had been before today. One cannot discover the past by reading a single history book, one has to read many, as historians have their own deceptions to promote. Darwin’s Origin of The Species was on the list as was Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Lewis Mumford, Arnold Toynbee, William Paley...The list grows by the day. Poetry, art, mathematics, science, biology, religion and more. No subject was taboo.

Late 2002, I had heard of a new book on mathematics that had been published by Stephen Wolfram "A New Kind Of Science" – a wonderful door stop once you got the jist of it. In this book he was searching to find the mathematical formula for the universe, which he believed he could unravel in 5 lines of mathematics. His thesis was that from simple things great complexity could evolve, and with the aid of computers, he devised a number of simple programmes whereby an array of three black squares and one white square could be programmed to create complex patterns. He wrote a simple formula for how he wanted the relationship between the squares to behave and ran the programme. Rule 110, that is the 110th time he ran the formula, a complex pattern evolved that resembled patterns seen in nature.

I pondered such a thesis. Is the world really a random creation, or was there a Divine being, God, who created the universe and everything in it? As an architect, I greatly admired the formidable works of art and architecture that religion had inspired and could not help but wonder what drove men and women to create such works. Were all those artists and architects misguided and misinformed due to the limitations of the science of their time, or was there a higher form of mental awareness that it was possible to attain? To this end I made a study of the major religions of the world which eventually led me to consider the power of Australian aboriginal spirituality and its connection to earth.

I decided to examine the possibility of creating random art forms that would be considered beautiful. The concept was to attempt to repeat in paint what Stephen Wolfram had done with the computer. Was it possible to throw some colour around, and to press a piece of paper to the colour 110 times and create works of beauty? Paper did not work so I tried Perspex over a glass base. It was not possible to create 110 random images, 6 was about the maximum. I had created some 20 plates, they were attractive, but hardly the stuff that any curators would be hounding me for. I assembled all 20 pieces and studied them to see if the secrets of the universe were to unfold. There was a pattern emerging, but not very strong or obvious. The patterns were fractal lines. By an intuitive process I had discovered how to produce fractals with paint. They were complex, repetitive branch-like patterns. I then returned to the mathematics books to learn more. I had read of Benoit Mandelbrot’s Chaos Theory and seen some of the computer-generated fractals on screen, but they were not like what I had generated.

Benoit Mandelbrot wrote in 1984: “Why is geometry often described as cold and dry? One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline or a tree. Clouds are not spheres, mountains not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line...Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity. The number of distinct scales of length of patterns is for all purposes infinite.”

The existence of these patterns challenges us to study those forms that Euclid leaves aside as being formless, to investigate the morphology of the amorphous. Mathematicians have disdained this challenge, however, and have increasingly chosen to flee from nature by devising theories unrelated to anything we can see or feel.

A study of art history revealed that Leonardo da Vinci observed fractals in nature in his mountain-top drawings. Chinese art was filled with fractal forms, and so I realised that the universe might be interconnected with fractal lines. A study of medical books revealed fractal lines occurring in brain patterns, nervous systems and blood vessels. Simple observations of garden plants revealed fractal lines everywhere: plant leaves, stones, branches, river systems. Satellite photographs of earth revealed that the entire planet was a system of fractal lines, but I was not the first to make this discovery.

“In 1953 I realized that the straight line leads to the downfall of mankind. But the straight line has become an absolute tyranny. The straight line is something cowardly drawn with a rule, without thought or feeling; it is the line which does not exist in nature. And that line is the rotten foundation of our doomed civilization. Even if there are places where it is recognized that this line is rapidly leading to perdition, its course continues to be plotted...Any design undertaken with the straight line will be stillborn. Today we are witnessing the triumph of rationalist knowhow and yet, at the same time, we find ourselves confronted with emptiness. An esthetic void, desert of uniformity, criminal sterility, loss of creative power. Even creativity is prefabricated. We have become impotent. We are no longer able to create. That is our real illiteracy.” - Friedensreich Hundertwasser

"Science and Art: Two complementary ways of experiencing the natural world – the one analytic, the other intuitive. We have become accustomed to seeing them as opposite poles, yet don’t they depend on one another? The thinker, trying to penetrate natural phenomenon with his understanding, seeking to reduce all complexity to a few fundamental laws – isn’t he also the dreamer plunging himself into the richness of forms and seeing himself as part of the eternal of natural events? This experience of oneness which the individual may feel finds no counterpart in the intellectual history of the last two hundred years. As if they felt too confined in one soul, the mind of art and the mind of science have parted: One Faust has become two one-dimensional beings. The divergence seems irreversible, and what both sides promoted together during enlightenment is now out of balance. The courage to use one’s own reason has turned to presumptuousness. The cool rationality of science and technology has pervaded and transformed the world to such an extent that it could destroy human life. The inspiration of the arts can only respond helplessly, with bitterness.” - Peitgen & Richter (1986), The Beauty of Fractals

By chance, a friend informed me of the work of two eminent scientists Dr Malcolm Simons and Dr Andras Pellionisz. Simons was a New Zealander living in Australia, Pellionisz a Hungarian American. Both were involved with the study of genetics. Simons (who had a similar ‘funny kind of lucky’ experience in Oct 2002) is spending his lifetime on immunology and genetics. He was the first to recognise that Junk DNA (all DNA other than genes) had structure, and therefore was very likely to encode function. Pellionisz is a biophysicist, interested in biogenesis, and how the non-coding (Junk) DNA might be involved in fractal processes. Together the two are writing about genomic information and the development of body systems. I was encouraged to search for both men on the internet and found that junk DNA was interlinked by fractals – I could hardly contain my excitement. Subsequently, Dr. Malcolm Simons and I met in my studio and he took some examples of my work off to the USA. The following are their comments.

Dr. Malcolm Simons wrote:
"While marvelling over your prints, I was prompted to muse on the long-assumed dichotomy of art and science, on the commonly-held assumption of differences in inspiration, and on the regret that the communication gap is generally viewed as wide. I realised that the fractality of your paintings and of Andras’ thinkings had a common stem to the dichotomous Y that might be depicted as:

Art         Bioscience
I           I
I      I
II
II
Fractal
Physics

He added: "Having steeped myself in the paintings in galleries such as Alte Pinakothek in Munich, where are hung many classical paintings prompted by religious beliefs, I have the sense that yours, inspired by similar urges, have the same timeless resonance, to believers and non-believing appreciants alike. I’m moved to sense that your paintings will engender a similar timeless sense of awe, wonderment and exhilaration, in 50, 500 and years beyond."

Dr. Andras Pellionisz wrote:
"You distinguished me with your unbelievably imaginative portrayal of the ultimate hinterland, seen through my “Post-Mandelbrot’s musing” of living patterned fractal order of the DNA, to the physical core of chaotic and fractal order present even in every fingerprint of Nature (alive or not). Our synthesis of European Science and Art manifested in the remote continents of America and Australia is now communicated to the world through the most compelling manner possible, in its artistic essence. I will try to catch up with my science to your most amazing art that I have ever seen.
With Malcolm Simons we are co-authoring the “first ever” BrowserBook on “Junk DNA”, breaking new grounds in publishing, a badly overdue improvement on the venerable Old World printing technique of the Bible by Johann Gutenberg. We thought that your artistic breakthrough would be in good company if you kindly agreed to our invitation to feature your Art in the illustrations.

This exhibition of paintings is but a small summation of my journey over that past two years, yet has taken a lifetime to achieve. The ‘funny kind of lucky’ prognosis is correct. Without the wake up call of cancer, I would probably have drifted through the last decades of my life. This is the beginning of my journey, which I now share with you. Some may be offended, some confronted, perhaps even haunted. I make no apologies for any of this.

- Nick Chlebnikowski, Melbourne, Australia, May 2005

For further information please contact:
Nick Chlebnikowski
Phone: 61 3 9822 9100   Mobile: 0413 625 755
email: nick@nicks.com.au

 

 



Nick Chlebnikowski
Nick Chlebnikowski.
Photographs by Nick Sherman ACS.
http://www.nsherman.info/index.htm

About the Artist...

Nick Chlebnikowski is a qualified Architect and Town Planner with degrees from Melbourne University. Nick has received many awards for his architecture, including the prestigious Stephen and Turner Medal. His first exhibition was in 1966 with three other architecture students. The following year was his first solo exhibition. The wine business has dominated much of his career until 2005 when he discovered the nature of fractals and was compelled to return to painting, having developed techniques of expressing fractal filaments in paint. His obsession with fractal painting has resulted in seven exhibitions since 2005. Two documentaries of his paintings have been produced by award winning Russian Cinematographer Nicholas Sherman. His works are represented in private collections in the U.K., Japan, Norway, Hungary and the U.S. Nick is currently a member of the North Fitzroy Artist Community, exploring collaborative creative endeavours.

The Artist in his Studio


Nick Chlebnikowski

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