Anoka Faruqee

Atoms and Accidents (Artist’s Statement)

Atoms and Accidents (Artist’s Statement)


I paint with a customized steel trowel, akin to a large comb. Its notch/tooth pattern is a binary system: gesturing with it feels like wielding the screen in my hands, a game of human versus machine. I use the trowel to rake through wet paint, making many parallel lines in a single gesture that spans the width and length of the painting. The overlay of offset shapes intentionally creates the interference patterns that we consider a defect in digital imagery.


Moirés have a fascinating, stubborn logic that parallels various phenomena in the physical world, such as wave formations, stress patterns, and magnetic fields. The overlay and subsequent visual fusion of two or more offset patterns creates another pattern that is quite unlike and much more complex than any of the components. At the heart of the moiré phenomenon is the gulf between what is described (a circle on a circle, for instance) and what is ultimately experienced. This translation, a type of ‘aliasing’, implies deception or even corruption. But ultimately, the phenomenon not only exemplifies the plasticity of perception, but also models the dynamism of the physical world.


These more recent works exist in a continuum with my longstanding interests in opticality, modularity and topology. In my earlier freehand painting, I grew the painting, starting with a single hand painted module on the edge or middle of the canvas. I intended the shape, scale and direction of each and every mark during the process of painting to ultimately determine the painting’s own geometric teleology, which refers back to nature: its seeming chaos and corresponding mathematics. At the beginning of my career as a painter, I studied the influence of Islamic art on early 20th century European modernism and directly quoted Islamic geometry, painting gestures in the form of six pointed asterisks and three pointed tripods. Islamic geometry presents a willfully anti-iconic abstraction, whether developed in response to Christian icons, in adherence to the historical ban on images, or as mathematical perfection describing the infinity of the universe. I’m not interested in merely quoting these forms, suspending them in their historical moment: I use them in the present tense for what they are and what they can become. When I started the moiré paintings, I thought I had left this reference behind. So it was a surprise when the interlocking stars of Islamic patterning re-emerged from phased interference, albeit in a pulsating and blurry screen-like field. I have long considered Islamic atomism a forerunner of the pixelated screen, but now I see unexpected evidence of that hypothesis.


Recently, while looking through at book of 12th century Roman mosaic pavement patterns, I recognized the “Seirpinski triangle,” popularized in the 1980’s as a simple diagram of fractal geometry: an equilateral triangle, with its own inversion inscribed within it, repeating. It is surreal to realize that medieval artists knew visually what groundbreaking 20th century thinkers expressed mathematically. These Roman artists stopped fragmenting the triangle when the tesserae became too small to handle, though their designs present the logic of infinite self-similarity. Translations between the theoretical and tangible are central to my studio practice: the limitations of paint, mark making and tools continually interrupt pure structure. These interruptions read simultaneously as painterly gesture, material accident, and electro-magnetic corruption, crucially animating my paintings. Yet, these events are captured in an uncanny picture plane almost as impenetrable as the screen: the paintings’ milled surfaces indulge the seamlessness of the technological and the metaphysical. The surface is alien. Like science fiction, a lived past and unfolding present are decoded to the point of futuristic transformation.