10. Parcelles d'infini by Alain Nicolas
Alain Nicolas’s book (in French) is of a wide-ranging, multifaceted approach to (mostly) life-like tessellation. Throughout the book, there is a tutorial intent here, although this is not to say that this is the premise through the entire book. Various distinct aspects of tessellation are discussed, as listed below, and are discussed in detail further below.
§ Tessellations, all chapters
§ 35 Isohedral types, Chapter 4, page 41
§ ‘Picture stories’, Chapter 6, using the tessellations in the same manner as Escher did with his, 93-112.
§ ‘Tessellating words’, an innovation of Nicolas’s own devising, Chapter 7, pages 113-148.
§ Self-similar tilings, Chapter 9, pages 167
A pleasing aspect to the book is that, in contrast to most other tessellators, he gives explanations with both instructions and diagrams as to how some (but not all) of the tessellations were created. These include (numbers in brackets are numbers of examples): Pages 75 (3), 78 (4), 83 (1), 86 (4), 88 (4), giving a total of 16 explanations. Such a relatively high number thus permits a fair appraisal as to his methods. Of note is that he invariably begins with a geometric tiling (i.e. of straight lines), of a polygonal base, and then upon recognising a potential life-like creature, he then refines this to a more ‘realistic’ motif, very much in the same way of Escher or myself. A frequent feature of these is that the initial tile is, surprisingly, reminiscent of nothing in particular. For example, the ‘seed’ tile for both of the Cowboy and Horse examples (Bucking Bronco) (pages 80-81) just appears to be arbitrary geometric shapes, with nothing a priori that could be said to be cowboy and horse-like. Only in hindsight, having seen the finished tessellation, can the resemblance to a particular motif can be seen. The same finding can be said for very much like of the others. As such, the ability to extricate high quality, recognisable motifs from what appears to be most unpromising beginnings reflects greatly on the artist. Most tessellators would simply dismiss these initial examples out of hand as unworthy of proceeding with (i.e. unsuitable for motifs).
His tessellations are mostly of a high quality, some excellent, and occasionally with some of a superlative nature. Particular highlights are the Cowboy and Horse (Bucking Bronco) and Girl Diver. Many others are worthy of considerable praise. For example the human figures as a series in general. However, some are of questionable worth. In particular, I don’t find, for the greater part, favour with the ‘flatfish’ type, pages 68-69, 83, 95, 151, 170, these being somewhat reminiscent of Escher in style, further compounded in that as a category such examples are essentially to be ignored, on account of their atypical fish-like appearance, as well as their generally formless nature. I have concerns of the various dogs which seem a little contrived, pages 33, 168-169 and 178-179, albeit here concession seems to have been made to n-morphic tessellations of pages 168-169, 178-179. The lizards, pages 95, 109-112, 163 are somewhat alike in style to Escher’s, although I have less concerns here than with the flatfish type, as originality is indeed shown. Aside from the relative shortcomings above though, I can find very little to fault here. Indeed, one could be accused of cavilling with the above comments – most other artists would be more than pleased with some of the examples here.
35 Isohedral Types
Of note is the concern with the 35 isohedral types, for which Nicolas provides all these with a bird-like tessellation (albeit varying in quality, likely to be expected, given the restrictions involved) in principle, as this is shown, regrettably, as just a single tile. Better would be to show these as complete tessellations, but perhaps given the particular presentation, space for this was not available. Such a preoccupation is most gratifying, as this aspect of challenge is one that most tessellation artists ignore. Indeed, Andrew Crompton is the only other artist to have studied these, and this in a partial way. In contrast, Nicolas examines all possibilities.
Of note is a chapter on what I term as ‘picture stories’, in which the tessellations are used much in the same manner as Escher did with his own. Of note here is that these are of a unifying nature, in that the motifs have a connection, either directly or as opposites. Also, the motifs are all of a ‘sensible’ orientation. A frequent occurrence with lesser artists is compositions of incongruent motifs, without any connection, rendering the composition as absurd, with unwise choices of symmetry, in which the motifs are upside down in relation to each other.
Of particular note, and worthy of praise, is ‘Plane and Boat’, page 106. Aside from the inherent good quality of the motifs is the ‘type’ of tessellation here, in that he uses inanimate motifs, something that is rarely seen in other peoples work, due to the difficulties involved, and so this is of more than interest than other wise.
Another aspect to the tessellations is his interest in words as tessellations. As such, I am less qualified to judge on these, as I have not done anything in this field. However, it certainly looks very clever indeed, with much imagination and originality.
Self Similar Tessellations
Examples of self similarity are shown, largely of lower tariff motifs, of which for such types is largely a necessity.
Although the book is one of not inconsiderable
merit, I do have concerns as to secondary matters, such as the presentation.
For example, the plane tilings are more or less scattered throughout the book,
impinging on different subjects/chapters. Better would simply to have had a
single chapter here. However, any perceived shortcomings in presentation are
simply overridden by the sheer quality of the tessellations and their
offshoots, either as, the 35 isohedral tessellations, picture stories, word
play and self-similar tilings.
Critiques of the Individual Tessellations:
Due to there being so many tessellations, I don’t have the time to give an exhaustive appraisal as I would like, therefore at present the critiques below is an initial thought, pending subsequent addition. That said, the comments here should suffice to give a general indication as to the merits of Nicolas’s tessellations. To quickly enable an overview, these are described initially with one word descriptions, from six categories: Unacceptable, Poor, Reasonable, Good, Excellent, Superlative, which speak for themselves. Occasionally, some are borderline between two categories; these I signify with a hyphen, such as ‘Good-Excellent’. These are then generally followed by explanatory discussions and comments. To clarify the titles, I have put a description in English of the respective tessellation.
1. Reynards à la lune (Fox and Moon), page 15
3. Karaté, page 17
4. Fraternité (Man Running with Outstretched
Arms), page 18
5. Lucky Blanchepatte, mon Chien (Dog), page
6. Birds, page 22 top
7. Birds, page 22 below
8. Birds page, 23
9. Birds page, 23
10. Birds, page 24
11. Colombes (Doves), page, 27
12. Demi-tour de carte (Playing Card), page
13. Octopus, page 29
14. Birds, page 31
15. L’athlete, page 32
16. La Sirène (Mermaid) page 32
17. Le Lézard (Lizard), page 32
18. Le Chaton (Cat), pages 32 and 35
19. L’oterie (Seal), page 33
20. Le Coq (Cockerel), page 33
21. Le Chien (Dog), page 33
22. Le Gorille (Gorilla), page 33
23. Le Papillion (Butterfly), page 34
24. Le Canard (Ducks), pages 34 and 37
25. Le Rainette (Frog 1), page 34
26. Le Puxxle du fou (Man with odd hat), page
27. Not titled. Boy in Vest, page 40
28. D’Escher (Escher Portrait), page 40
29. Runner, page 74
30. Salutations Respectueuses (Marcher), page
31. Montagne (Goat), page 77
32. Indienes (Indians on Horseback, page 79
33. Cow-boy (Bucking Bronco 1), page 80
34. Rodéo, (Bucking Bronco 2), page 81
35. Emulation (Man with Guitar), page 82
36. Bears, page 83
37. Plongeon en eau trouble (Girl Diver), page
38. Échec (Chess Knight), page 85
39. Fish, page 86
40. Monkey, page 86
41. Judo Player, page 87
42. Lizard, page 88
43. Frog 2, page 88
44. Gentil/Merchant (Two Heads), page 89
45. Mimétisme (Fish), page 90
46. Puppet, page 92
47. Fish and Lizard, page 95
48. Rabbit and Leaves, page 96
49. Regard d’Infant (Bird and Squirrel). page
50. Lizard, page 109
51. Léxards au Carré (Lizard), page 110
52. Rosace aux Léxards (Lizard), page 111
53. Léxards (Lizards), page 112
54. Cascade (Flatfish), page 151
55. Bees, page 151
56. Plouf (Frog), page 151
57. Not titled (Lizards), page 163
58. Not titled (Dog), pages 168, 169
59. Flatfish, page 170
60. Butterflies, page 173
61. Dog, page 178
Agree/disagree? Email me.