Devin Powers: Abstract Meets Concrete

Copyright © Balmond Studio



Devin Powers: Abstract Meets Concrete

Brooklyn-based artist Devin Powers derives his work from research into higher dimensional geometry. He talks to Will Shapiro of Balmond Studio about his work and the developments being made in hypergeometry.

Above image: Mark, 2011, oil on canvas © Devin Powers

Will: You’ve said in the past that your work is influenced by hypergeometry – what led you to think about hyperspace in the first place?

I remember watching a documentary late one night when I was about 13 or 14. The programme described the possibility of a 4th dimension, not as time but as another spatial axis. Most fascinating to me was a 2-dimensional drawing of a 4-dimensional cube. The formal relationships were like nothing I had seen before. The way the 8 cells in the hypercube shared space – overlapping, contradicting each other and bubbling in and out of perception like the Necker Cube but with much more complexity. I noticed you could not see all the cells at once. Two or four would pop into awareness as volumetric space then collapse as the other two or four came out. You could see the whole as a network of 2-dimensional lines but once you start perceiving space the gestalt gives way. I was fascinated by the geometry and excited by the confusion it created to my understanding of reality. I liked the mystery of it. What exactly is the fourth dimension?

Pieces like ‘floe’ seem to me to relate to some ideas of hypergeometry – of a cube translating, shape-shifting, transforming. It makes me think about human cognition in relation to 4 dimensions; we can only see different projections of a 4D object, all of which are equally valid, and all of which exist simultaneously. Your radial work – pieces like ‘burst’ – makes me think about the topological concept that a sphere with its top point removed can unfurl itself onto the plane. Which mathematical concepts did you actually use to create these works?

Floeplays with the rhombi found inside n-cubes. I like the idea of everything at once – of showing everything at once. I think it is a feeling I picked up from looking into the shadows of n-cubes.

For burst, I was looking at diagrams from H.S.M. Coxeter’s book Regular Complex Polytopes. The first few pages contain a diagram of a monster polytope so complex it feels like you are staring into the eye of God. Burstwas my first crack at polar grid constructions.

My other radial work uses rhombic tiles that overlap, share and contradict each other in a way that, to me, comes again out of looking at n-cubes. The rhombi naturally form into nets that could be folded up into 3D like a soccer ball or a dome and pushed further into hypergeometry.

I am curious to know about the concrete aspects of your work. Do you use computers? Tape? How do you start to translate something that interests you mathematically into something visual?

I draw and paint everything by hand. I do most of my sketching in my notebook. Recently I have been making sketches in Adobe Illustrator (I am learning AutoCAD) but I don’t plan everything out. It is all about discovery.

Early on I used tape because it was a fast straight line, then I moved into markers, paint pens and technical pens on paper. I didn’t like how the lines looked as if they were made on a computer. I wanted more of a hand-made, expressive feel so I switched to oil paint. I like the grit and smudge of the process of using oil. To me it is a metaphor for how this Apollonian or Platonic mathematical world brushes against our messy reality. Nothing here is perfect or pure. And everything with form is expressed through material.

I really appreciate the ‘grit and smudge’ of your work because, of course, mathematics exists in a different realm, and you can’t ignore the translation into the physical world. At the same time, all of these pieces must be extremely labour intensive to construct so precisely; the decision to not use a computer to make these drawings has very real consequences in terms of time and labour. I was wondering how you relate to the act of drawing, and to the act of drawing by hand in the age of computer graphics.

I love being immersed in the physicality of the materials. I also find working with my hands to be meditative… not completely blissful all the time but mostly calming and immersive as opposed to boring or frustrating. I do use CAD programs on occasion to quickly work out a number of compositional sketches for the work but I leave the final work to be done in the drawing or painting. That way there is still room to think and make decisions in the moment. Analogue slows down the game. We often think it is a disadvantage but I find the pieces that I give the most time to work out best. More time for reflection on decisions I suppose.

Devin Powers is a Brooklyn-based artist who uses hypergeometry and multi-dimensional mathematics as influences for his work. To find out more, visit his website:




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