Traditional techniques meet modern Mandelbrot sets. The ancient and modern collide and the infinite is born. Fractals represent a shape in a shape within a shape within the selfsame shape… a story within a story within a story in the manner of the 1001 Nights. For me, both fractals and the 1001 Nights signal endless possibilities, something that excites me as I want to explore them all.

Lacquer and japanning are traditional techniques used in luxury objects and furniture. Layer upon layer is painted until a high-shine finish is achieved. Protective when cured and dry, it is highly poisonous when wet. You can eat off lacquer utensils, chopsticks and bowls when dry.  It has been used for musical instruments, furniture and even coffins. It is waterproof and highly durable. The ancient samurai had leather armour varnished with lacquer to make it weatherproof.

Red and black are ancient colours.  The Sanskrit word lākshā (लाक्षा), which also means 100,000 (possibly because insects are numerous) was used both for the lac insect and the scarlet red, shellac-rich resinous secretion that was used to finish wood in ancient India. The word oozes and changes slowly throughout history and geography: Prakrit lakkha seeped into the Hindi lakh, which morphed into the Persian lak, settling into Arabic lakk – the Middle East traded lacquerware – thence to Medieval Latin lacca, whence Portuguese and French lacre – hence English lacquer.  Just as the word china came to be used for fine porcelain, so too japanning for the European version of lacquer (lacquer proper needs a warm and humid environment, the opposite of cold, dry northern European climes). Chinese (and subsequently Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian) lacquers contain urushiol, the active ingredient of the resin, from the toxicodendron vernicifluum tree (note the presence of the root toxi-: it is highly poisonous stuff!): raw lacquer is known as 生漆: ki-urushi  in Japanese, shengqi in Chinese.  This can be mixed into different colours – the classic traditional colours for lacquer being red, black, yellow and gold and silver. The famous Chinese red lacquer is made by mixing it with cinnabar – the same origin of the reds in my lacquer pieces.  Lacquer is truly an ancient craft: Chinese Neolithic lacquerware dating from 5000-4500 BC has been unearthed.

Of course, fractals have been around forever in nature and in art.  The mathematic disciplines behind fractals as we know them today began in the 17th century with Leibniz and progressed right up to Benoit Mandelbrot who gave his name to the forms he was studying in the 1960s – studying, as it happened, the coastline of Britain – how an island is itself a fractal.

Fractals are complexity encapsulated. I have always been drawn to complexity as it challenges me to imagine all the possible outcomes of an event or idea, while reminding me that the world is myriad and the people in it full of unique stories – unique yet also ‘the same, but different’. Fractals are selfsame images with slight differences in their permutations.  They can be found throughout the natural world, in coastlines and clouds, mountain ranges and river networks, trees and snowflakes, waves and crystals as well as in our blood vessels and DNA. At its core, it is a pattern that shapes the universe.

Complexity can be rendered very simply. We can also imagine complexity when confronted with very simple images. The picture of a fractal thus becomes a symbol of the complex, its image enough to indicate infinite microcosmic or macrocosmic worlds which mirror each other, repeating ceaselessly until the end of time ~


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