Lester - Staff Photographer)
will have a one-man exhibition titled "Images
from the Antipodes of the Mind" at Cal Poly
Pomona Downtown Center.
San Dimas painter sees
more than what meets the eye
By Jennifer Cho Salaff,
Ken Sheffer sees beyond
color, shape and texture when he creates a painting. But what he
sees, he can't put into words.
"I have to transform
my thoughts into images to express them," the former rocket
scientist/mathematician/artist said during an interview at his San
Dimas home studio. "I think in very abstract kind of images.
When I work, I think of physics, I work with the theory of
gravitation. I visualize things -- I see -- well (he laughs), it's
hard to describe."
most recent work, titled "Images
from the Antipodes of the Mind," is perhaps the closest the viewer
will get into the former computer scientist's complex thoughts. The
exhibition, a colorful collection of abstract oil-on-canvas works,
is on display at the Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center and is part
of the monthly Second Saturday Artwalk. It runs through Oct. 31.
"The name (of the exhibition)
suggests scenes possibly of a place that doesn't exist in nature,
but perhaps in some other place -- like the mind," said Sheffer, 67. "I'm
not interested in painting things you can see -- everyone does
that, I've done that. I'm interested in things you can't see, things that
don't have anything to do with physical reality."
mastery over color and his use of light and shadows result in a rich "gradient" of
hues -- colors go from light to dark and intense to muted. The smoothness
and uninterrupted transition of colors creates an airbrushed effect,
though Sheffer never uses an airbrush to create his pieces.
He uses traditional paintbrushes,
painstakingly mixing colors and applying them in horizontal brush strokes
one session at a time, allowing each layer to dry. One painting may take
a few weeks to complete.
"It takes a tremendous
amount of concentration," he said. "It gets pretty monotonous,
but you get into this altered state of consciousness. It's sort of
common to Sheffer's work include vivid colors, simple hard-edge geometry
and often one or two spheres which suggest planets or moons. "Big Sky Ribbon Sea" depicts
an otherworldly seaside landscape, perhaps at dusk. The moon reflects off
of a colorful "ribboned" ocean. The picture is soothing, meditative.
The natural and conceptual collide in Sheffer's paintings, which he calls "metaphysical
Arts Colony fixture and "Images" curator George Cuttress has watched
Sheffer's work progress over the past decade. He says the exhibition is a
testament to Sheffer's transformation as an artist.
"There's the rigidity to
the scientific mind that has been evident in his past work. He has a geometric
edge to his work," Cuttress said. "But he is breaking through
with new things. There's almost a religious experience looking at
his work. It's got a spirituality of its own."
WHERE ART AND MATH INTERSECT
Sheffer's interest in the intersection
of art and math began as a high school student in rural Nebraska.
"I began to think, "What
is it about a certain shape that makes it appealing or unappealing?'" he
said. "I was fascinated with the idea that there might be a way of
defining, mathematically, the basis of beauty in many different forms."
As a mathematics
and physics major at the University of Kansas (where he also studied art "surreptitiously"),
Sheffer began to notice a strong parallel between the development
of mathematics in history and the development of artistic expression.
"For example, during the
Dark Ages and Renaissance, most of the art was of religious icons in the
Western world. They were stiff, geometric figures. So was the mathematics
at the time, it was very geometric, very logic-oriented," Sheffer
said. "But along came (Isaac) Newton and he changed all that with
fluxions, which became known as calculus. The mathematic concepts
became fluid and you began to see art breaking free from this rigidness.
The development of motion and perspective came into this."
Sheffer recognizes the harmonious
relationship between math and art in his own paintings. He sees mathematical
principals at work -- the Golden Ratio, differential calculus, the Inverse
Square law, proportions, dimensions. They are in sync with the colors,
textures, shapes, forms.
SEEING THINGS A DIFFERENT WAY
Sheffer might be considered
a modern day Renaissance man. He has been a rocket scientist (in the 1960s,
he was part of a team that worked on a nuclear-powered rocket engine for
manned missions to Mars). He was a successful computer scientist for more
than 20 years and served as an international emissary for a Fortune 500
computer manufacturer. He currently teaches high school algebra at West
Covina High School. He paints, sculpts, does installation art and makes
of his San Dimas home has some kind of art. The books stacked in his living
room include titles like "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out," "Model
Aircraft" and "The History of Modern Furniture."
For Sheffer, the best art is
art that brings another perspective.
"The art that means the
most to me is art that makes me see things in a way that I didn't see them
before," he said. "That's what I hope would happen to people
that come to the show."
Jennifer Cho Salaff can be reached by e-mail email@example.com or by phone at (909) 483-9381.