Monday, February 20, 2017

Sacred Geometry

So I’ve been drawing a bit lately. I don’t consider myself particularly talented when it comes to “art,” at least with respect to graphic art, but I certainly appreciate art and design. I bought a 9 x 12-inch sketch pad of 60 lb. fine-toothed paper, and a bunch of other stuff (new compass, erasers, protractors, straightedges, etc.) from Michaels a few months ago. I’ve been drawing mostly with a compass and straightedge; variations of overlapping circles grids, i.e. flowers-of-life, Metatron’s Cubes, et cetera.

This kind of thing.

There is something very relaxing about drawing with mechanical pencils (primary weapon of choice is a Pentel P205, 0.5 mm), and there’s something compelling about geometry, particularly “sacred” geometry. I’m not—and never have been—talented mathematically, either, but I can easily see how the universe (as we perceive and understand it) can be interpreted through math. All one need do is look at the fractal branching of a tree, or the curve of a nautilus shell, or the Mandelbrot-set-beauty-ad-infinitum of a Romanesco Broccoli head, to see it play out. Or one can look to more ephemeral things: the Brownian motion of white cream poured into hot, black coffee, the swirling and rolling and rising curls of beige; exhaled cigarette smoke or wisps of hot breath in the winter; the sinusoidal crests and troughs of lake- or sea-waves lapping or crashing onto shore; the invisible ellipses of the planets’ or satellites’ orbits . . . it’s everywhere, really. Math is an esoteric and occult language to me, but no less compelling for that. I admit it’s a little bit like knowing a few words in a foreign language—in this case, a language that is inherently magical.

The things I’ve been drawing are really variations of the themes mentioned above; iterations of overlapping circles, and as I’ve been making new drawings, I’ve been slowly increasing the complexity, sort of testing the limits of what I can do. A lot of it, more recently, has been inflected by the additional motif of the four (or five) classical elements (again, depending on which tradition one is aligning with) of air, fire, earth, and water (and sometimes “æther” or “spirit” or whatever). I’m not religious, and in fact I consider myself an atheist, but the symbology resonates with me. The ontological / cosmological / epistemological questions we all have are ever-present and the world and everything in it are manifestations of the questions, and at the same time, partial answers to those questions.

The universe is, simultaneously, mystery and revelation.

I sit at my desk and draw, stepping out circles, circumscribing questions, demarcating answers. The pencil makes a satisfying scrape across the paper when traveling along a straightedge connecting vertices, and a soft shushing when shading in a section.

My father was really good at math—he was an Engineer working for the Long Island Lighting Company (subsequently LIPA, KeySpan energy) for most of my childhood. He was involved in the design of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, and took me there as a child to see it, both during construction and later, when it was undergoing initial testing. It was as cool as you might imagine.

Robert Sherwood (dad) at Drawing Board

I have his old drafting materials now; high-end German compasses, triangles, an eraser-shield, a slide rule, Vernier calipers (not quite a drafting tool, admittedly), all sorts of stuff. He taught me to use a compass when I was ten or so. I remember him guiding my hand, showing me how to draw “flowers” using the compass, stepping out the angles of the circle using its radius, then connecting the six sections with arcs. I remember my amazement at how . . . exact it was, and how elegant.

One of dad's compass sets.

That was a beginning, a brief moment of satori, a little flash of insight. It was a seed, a spark, an exposure, illuminating that which lies behind or under the plain truth of things.

He used his tools for his work, and I am using them for play. My father passed on in March of 2013, but I feel him “with” me, most strongly, when I draw. Drawing like this requires some patience, and he was the most patient man I have known. Drawing like this is a little bit ritualistic, a little bit meditative. It’s a time to make space for wonder, for revelation, and for remembrance.

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