Interview With...

This section interviews the leading lights of contemporary tessellation, with a series of questions concerning their own thoughts on the subject. Rather than contacting ‘likely’ people, I offer an open invitation to any person featured on Andrew Crompton’s site, or Patrick Snels database listing, to set out their views on the subject based on that of the questions and answers below, in which I give a typical example of the type of writing I am looking for.
    This section is still being developed; if anyone has further suggestions or questions that are of possible interest that are not covered by that below I would be delighted to hear from any reader.
    Broadly, as well as the views expressed as being of interest in their own right, a secondary aim is to examine the individual creative processes, and seeing if these have aspects in common, or indeed differ, and so perhaps sow the seeds of new ideas, or new avenues.

Alain Nicolas
In Alain’s reply to my request for an interview he said to me to correct or clarify any shortcomings to his response in English, of which I duly do here. However, any changes are most minor indeed; his English is in general very good, and only on a few occasions was it necessary to change or clarify the text here, and indeed even where it was required, it was only necessary to correct a word or phrase, never so much as even a single sentence. Any changes are really so minor that documenting these is pedantic, and so I thus show the ‘adjusted’ interview without further comment.

David Bailey (DB): How did you begin in tessellation; was it by seeing Escher’s work (as is usually the case)?
Alain Nicolas (AN): Ever since being very young, I remember to have imaginative words crossing without any spaces. But that was much too complicated for me then! But later, in 1973, I read a book titled ‘Illusions’ where there were four drawings by Escher. They were not tessellations, but it is there that I started to take an interest in Escher and to discover his work.

DB: What do you consider your best work, and what are its particular merits? In addition, what other examples do you consider that stand out for the rest?
AN: I was particularly happy when I drew ‘Rodeo’ because the pattern is composed of two tiles and the silhouette is very articulate in its action. And I was ‘with the angels’ when I finished ‘Travis Pickin’, because it was the dream of my childhood which was carried out to cross words without space and this task is very difficult; especially so with words that are easily readable. Moreover, Merle Travis is my favourite guitarist and the letters have a small western look.

DB: How do you go about designing a tessellation; do you have just one process, or many?
AN: I work with a paper and a pencil. Then I test several types of polygon which I deform. But sometimes I search for a ‘good’ polygon appropriate to a well defined subject. This was the case, for example, with ‘Rodeo’. For the tessellations with words, I always start with a word which has an emotional significance for me.

DB: What do you find so ‘fascinating’ about tessellation?
AN: It is the representation of the infinite. And while drawing, the feeling to reveal what God created.

DB: What do you consider the most important aspect of a high-quality tessellation?
AN: Firstly, the recognition of the motif in silhouette, which should be ‘good’. Then, it’s the aesthetic side.

DB: Which contemporary tessellation artists do think highly of?
AN: For me, Makoto Nakamura is the best, from the quantity and the quality of his tessellations.

DB: Do you still think the subject has areas to explore, or did Escher mine it to exhaustion?
AN: I think that there is still much to discover, although the simplest have already been discovered.

Created: 6 April 2012

Makoto Nakamura

DB: How did you begin in tessellation; was it by seeing Escher's work (as is usually the case)? 
MN: Around 1971 or 1970 (Escher had been still alive!) I accidentally found a booklet published “Study of Regular Division of the Plane with Horsemen" by Escher in a library near my house. Since then, I wanted to become able to draw tessellation as I was impressed very much.

DB: Which of Escher's tessellations/prints impresses you the most? 
MN: Sky and Water I, if I'm forced to say. 

DB: What do you consider your best work, and what are its particular merits? In addition, what other examples do you consider that stand out for the rest? 
MN: My best work? It is a next work. It may be trite idiom, I sincerely think so. 

DB: What do you consider the most important aspect of a high-quality tessellation? 
MN: Even if anyone looks, a tessellation of horses is identified as a horse not pig, it would say good tessellation, in common-sense terms.
However, I do not think that it is a bad tessellation even if anyone sees it like a pig because I regard a tessellation as a tool of the art.
When I drew a tessellation of horses, than seen in the crowd as paintings of dead horses, I wants to be recognized as a tessellation of live pigs.
But in expression of the art, a tessellation of dead horses may be necessary. For me, tessellation is the same as the language for a writer. Therefore, I cannot necessarily say, actually, what is high-quality tessellation. 

DB: Which contemporary tessellation artist do think highly of? 
MN: I do not know because I'm not a good audience. 

DB: Do you still think the subject has areas to explore, or has it been mined to exhaustion? 
MN: do not know presence or absence of possibility, because I have not a basis to conclude. Like up to now, I will go to pursue the possibilities of expression of tessellation.

With thanks to Yoshiaki Araki for facilitating the interview with Makato, and translation.

Created: 25 June 2012

Self Interview!
1. How did you begin in tessellation; was it by seeing Escher’s work (as is usually the case)?
With an interest in art per se, I first came across Escher's artwork, purely by chance, in 1983 or 1984 in a small article in Reader’s Digest (‘The Artist Who Aims to Tease’, by Greg Keeton), this featuring a small number of his prints, notably Day and Night. This immediately struck me for its innovation; and I quite clearly recall wondering how this was done, but I had no means of finding out (there were very few books on Escher at the time). From this initial encounter, and wanting more from art then ‘simple’ representation, I then slowly moved towards mathematics, via op art, and eventually then began doing tessellations Escher-style in 1986-1987, from which my interest grew and grew.

2. What do you consider your best work, and what are its particular merits? In addition, what other examples do you consider that stand out for the rest?
It’s hard to select a single example, in that I consider many to be of a very high quality, with the differences, if at all, being nuances. However, if pressed, I consider the girl with flowing hair tessellation to be my favourite. Just about everything is ideal about this, with every element in proportion (although one could question the hair). Also, the motif itself, a human figure, I consider challenging for tessellation purposes, and so more worthwhile than easier examples, of birds and fishes. Furthermore, for obvious reasons, human motifs are worthy of more attention than other creatures vis a vis, in the art world per se, compare the popularity of portraits as against, say, an ant, to give an arbitrary example. Other examples I favour are the Human figure in dungarees. Arguably, this is even better, in that the silhouette is even more compelling than the girl with flowing hair.

3. What do you find “fascinating” about tessellation?
To me, it’s the initial ‘surprise’ of the image. In normal, everyday life, one does not see figurative images (as against non-representational instances, such as tiles) as interlocking, without overlaps or gaps, of which the effect gives one a jolt,  a ‘unusual’ picture, in that it would appear to be a hard feat to achieve, with the immediate query of the uninitiated as to how this was done. Aside from that, the challenge of producing a recreational figure that is as closest as possible to the object it is supposedly portraying, something of quality, as against something baring only loose resemblance, of to me which to me the latter misses the point; it should either resemble exactly, or at the very least very closely be. That is the challenge. As can be seen, such a feat is not easy, many instances are essentially worthless.

4. What do you consider the most important aspect of a high-quality tessellation?
Without any doubt whatsoever, the recognition of the motif in silhouette, immediately, without even a second glance being necessary. This is, or should be, just about everything. Only in very few exceptions can this be overridden, such as when the motif is portrayed at an angle, of which the silhouette will naturally be less recognizable. This aspect is scandalously ignored by most artists; any one tessellation is as good as any other seems to be the prevailing view of many people.

5. Which contemporary tessellation artists do think highly of?
In particular, I like Makoto Nakamura. His higher quality examples, of which there are many, of many different motifs (and not just of the easier to accomplish birds and fish), are quite superb. Alain Nicolas is also very good indeed. Again, he has both quality and variety. Another great talent, little known (regrettably so), is Nick Scalfittura. He specialises in human figures, and of this type he is arguably the best in the field. I also like Bruce Bilney and Andrew Crompton, both with quality and variety.

6. Do you still think the subject has areas to explore, or did Escher mine it to exhaustion?
As a simple statement, it still has plenty of areas to explore. One of my regrets is that people seem to think that Escher did ‘everything’, with nothing left for any further generations to do. This could not be further from the truth. Indeed Escher omitted many, many motifs, far too many to list here. Escher himself is open to criticism in a number of ways. Far too much reliance was placed on ‘flatfish’, these being at best (due to the vague silhouette aspect) inconsequential, or more exactly next to worthless. Far too much leaning is given to birds and fish as motifs (the easiest motifs to compose), at the expense of more challenging motifs, such as human figures. (Escher only did four of the latter and only one of which is broadly worthwhile; compare that to Scalfittura’s abundance and of far greater quality.) Certainly, Escher deserves great credit for pioneering the way, but as regards to claims of him having done everything of worth in tessellation, this is quite frankly, and demonstrably, risible.

    Since Escher’s time, computers have come onto the scene, and consequently this opens up new avenues that were simply not possible, or indeed practical at the time. Aside for the task of assisting with the ‘mindless’ need of repetition, there are animation possibilities; for example, Nakamura’s work in this field is very good indeed. Also, in three dimensions, Escher largely neglected application to polyhedra, with very few examples.
    So, there is still room for new motifs and innovations as well; the only requisite is imagination.

7. How do you go about designing a tessellation; do you have just one process, or many?
Broadly, I design a tessellation without a preconceived motif in mind (other artists do the opposite, discussed below). I do this by two different, but related processes. Firstly, with a given tiling polygon, by taking random, gently curved lines and distorting the sides (as according to the mathematical arrangement of the tile, to retain the tiling principle), and then looking at the resultant shape, seeing if this has any resemblance to any particular motif. If so, I then further refine this initial drawing to make it as representational as what it bears resemblance to as possible. If not, it can be quickly abandoned without further ado, and so keeping any wasted time down to a minimum. Secondly, still in keeping with the above, again with a tiling polygon, as according to the tiling principle, by taking random simple geometric lines to a tiling polygon, typically of just three elements, as according to the grid lines of typically squared paper. Typically, this procedure is good for composing ‘geometric’ bird and fish motifs, of which again, can be further refined, if so desired, with curves replacing the straight lines (to be more life-like). This is generally the way that most people approach the problem. Certainly, Escher himself did this, and so does Alain Nicolas, high recommendations indeed. One process that I have seen by others, but have not used myself, is that of beginning with a arbitrary given motif first, and then ‘adapting’ it to a tiling pattern. Proponents of this procedure include Nick Scalfittura and Andrew Crompton. Interestingly, their work stands comparison with Escher and Nicolas, any indeed any others of the top tessellators, and so which method is ‘best’ is difficult to say. Perhaps it’s just a matter of personal choice.

Created: 22 March 2012