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'Alhambra Pollock' Painting- Art for Arab, Muslim & West Amity

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Arab, Muslim and West amity and understanding is urgently needed at this time with anti-Arab anti-Semitism and Islamophobia entrenched in the West, American or US-surrogate forces partially or completely occupying a swathe of Arab culture, Islamic countries from Somalia to Afghanistan (Somalia, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan), with Iran under attack from Afghan opium smugglers and from US-backed Pakistani Baluchistan terrorists and Iran (population 70 million) also under acute threat of conventional or even nuclear attack by the US or by America’s Middle East surrogate, Apartheid Israel. 

Small comfort that outstanding French Jewish writer Emmanuel Todd argues that the American Empire is in its last throes in his best-selling “After the Empire” (“Après l’Empire”; English translation Constable, London, 2004) - because he also indicates that a lot of innocent people will die in the process.  Indeed as of December 2010, the post-invasion excess deaths (violent and non-violent avoidable deaths) in the Occupied Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan Territories now total 0.3 million, 2.5 million and 4.5 million, respectively; the post-invasion under-5 infant deaths total 0.2 million, 0.9 million and 2.4 million, respectively (90% avoidable); and the refugees from these Occupied countries now  total 7 million, 5-6 million and 3-4 million, respectively.

I have painted a huge painting “Alhambra Pollock” that attempts to enhance Arab-West and Muslim-West amity through art.

The painting arose from a series of other large paintings with a similar humanitarian, pro-Peace, pro-Woman and pro-Mother and Child messages that can be seen on the Web via Flickr,  notably Qana, Sydney Madonna, Manhattan Madonna, Melbourne Madonna, and Truelove (see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/ ).

The bold vision of “Alhambra Pollock” was to create a beautiful painting conflating the most extreme form of contemporary Western abstract expressionism (that of American Jackson Pollock) with the ravishing colours and beautiful geometric forms of Islamic and Arab tile patterns (most wonderfully seen in the great mosques of Bokhara, Samarkand, Isfahan and elsewhere and the exquisite 13 th - 14th century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain). The simple message was that this conflation of such radical extremes – the post-war, alcohol-fuelled, radical, American abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock VERSUS the pure Islamic, non-representational, tile pattern Art of the Golden Age of Islamic and Arab Art and Culture from Spain to Central Asia - demonstrates the essential unity of Man. If such conflation is possible between such extremes then there is no serious argument between Men - with peace, understanding and amity being the inexorable consequences.

Indeed Peace is an Acronym for the essential ingredients of this specific kind of Artistic polemical which can be described as Pólya, Escher, Alhambra Cultural Ecumenism as outlined below.

My Great Uncle George  Pólya (1887-1985) was a great Hungarian mathematician who spent much of his professional life at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland  in the period 1914-1940 and thence at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California from 1953 until his death in 1985 at the age of 98. He was a pacifist and was lightly punished by the Swiss by having to teach at a Gymnasium in WW1. Shortly after his return to the ETH he published a mathematical description of the 17 plane symmetry groups that describe the 17 possible types of tile patterns of the kind most wonderfully employed in Islamic and Arab Art. M.C. Escher was fascinated by such patterns found in the exquisite 13th-14th century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain and in the great mosques of the Islamic World from Spain to the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, South Asia and South East Asia. M.C. Escher was alerted to George Pólya’s work, corresponded with him for many years and used these patterns in his wonderful lithographs (see Harold & Loretta Taylor, “George Pólya. Master of Discovery”, Dale Seymour, Palo Alto, 1993).

My painting arose out of discussions with dear Muslim, Muslim-origin and other friends. I knew it as a wonderful humanitarian and artistic idea and also knew how to approach the painting technically. However I really struggled for 4 months with the compositional solution to the problem. Great Uncle George published a wonderful book called “How to Solve it” (published in 1945, published subsequently in many languages and still in print) that is beloved of mathematics teachers and students. Mathematics is the technical core of the “Alhambra Pollock”.  Specifically, the underlying design involves conflation of a particular kind of plane symmetry group (“wallpaper group” or tile pattern) with the Fibonacci Sequence-based Golden Rectangle (Da Vinci Code) geometry used by many artists over several millennia and most gloriously in the Italian Renaissance.  Nevertheless a crucial artistic spark was missing.

Several years ago I returned to teaching at a particular top Australian  university to help out a scientific department because a highly respected scientific colleague was ill. Indeed I am still teaching there, in charge of a major theory and laboratory class course. Lecturing and thinking about how to “get through” to this cohort of second year university science students evidently “opened doors in my mind” and – Eureka! – walking back from lectures and laboratory classes one day the solution suddenly crystallized. A similar process - precipitated by the excellent “Morning Pages”  stream of consciousness exercise in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” - led to the huge humanitarian paintings that are the precursors of “Alhambra Pollock”.

The solution involved adding a further layer of complexity to the underlying plane symmetry group (tile pattern) and Fibonacci Sequence geometry. Specifically, I added elongated figures akin to the elegant and beautiful Australian Aboriginal Bradshaw Figures found on rock paintings in the North West Kimberley Region of Australia and dated to over 17,000 years old. Perhaps the inspiration also came from seeing so many slim, young undergraduate students reclining, walking and playing on the university lawns and quadrangles. Excited, I created a first rough version of the painting and then hastened to the next stage of the huge 1.3 meter by 2.9 meter canvas. However the first version departed from my original conception – “the painting took over control” – and a beautiful, unique, alternative solution evolved. I then embarked on a second attempt in order to more precisely achieve my original conception, the painting again took over control -and the result was “Alhambra Pollock”.

In short, “Alhambra Pollock” describes one year in the life a human being - Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. The Four Seasons occupy a Double Golden Rectangle geometry (as in Picasso’s “Guernica” and my similarly-motivated, anti-war painting “Qana”)  that lies between a lower strip (representing Earth,  Fire and Water) and a smaller upper strip (representing Air and Sky). The figures of the large Central Strip evolve into Mermaids at the interface with the Lower (Water) Strip and Winged Fairies at the interface with the Upper (Sky) Strip. The colours match the mood and nature of the Four Seasons, which are in turn allegories for the moods and nature of Man. The three elements (tile patterns, Golden Rectangle Geometry and conflated figures) create a chaotic complexity – order in chaos, chaos in order – akin to both the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and the Arabic Calligraphy often superimposed on great Islamic Art tile patterns.

According to a recent lecture by the President of the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), the World faces three acute problems, namely nuclear weapons, global warming and poverty. Bush America is a major part of these problems – the US has the most nuclear weapons; the US is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter, refuses to sign Kyoto and will not constrain carbon dioxide pollution; and the US is at the helm of Spaceship Earth on which about 22 million people currently die avoidably each year (with 10 million of these avoidable deaths being those of under-5 year old infants).

These are acutely serious problems and the World needs to deal with them urgently by Rational Risk Management as most successfully applied in Aviation and successively involving (a) correct information, (b) scientific analysis involving the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses, and (c) systemic change to minimize the dangers. Instead, the 21st century has seen the Bush-ite and Racist Zionist promotion of anti-Arab anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, terror hysteria, war and imperialism and an overall approach involving (a) Goebellsian lies and propaganda, (b) anti-scientific spin involving use of asserted facts to support a partisan, prejudiced position and (c) blame and shame culminating in horrendous wars that have killed about 8 million people this century and seriously exacerbated the danger to the world.

Peace is the only way and this present contribution of PEACE – Pólya, Escher, Alhambra Cultural Ecumenism -  through Art is one of many possible ways to increase empathy for the Other that underscores amity and understanding between human beings.


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