Chapman mixes math and art in “Reflections”


“Reflections, Rotations, Symmetries”

Brian Chapman

709 Penn Gallery

Opening… “Reflections, Rotations, Symmetries”

Brian Chapman

709 Penn Gallery

Opening reception tonight at 5

Runs through Nov. 16

To Brian Chapman, math and art aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, he simply considers them to be opposite ends of the same spectrum.

The Pitt faculty member, who teaches part time in the department of biomedical informatics, has combined his knowledge of conformal mapping and computer programming with his lifelong interest in the visual arts to create a fascinating set of photographs.

Chapman claims his latest visual project, the kaleidoscope-like images created from simple photographs of nature objects, began with a 2006 trip to his home state of Utah. When he started to seriously endeavor in photography about six years ago, Chapman took pictures of cottonwood tree bark.

“I became really fascinated with [taking pictures of] bark,” he laughs. “My wife thought I was crazy.”

But last year after attending a show of friend and local Pittsburgh artist Clayton Merrell, Chapman became inspired to see if he could do something interesting with his photos. Taking cues from another inspiration, the art of M.C. Escher, Chapman began playing with reflections and symmetry in the photos using a computer program he used in his field of medical imaging.

The first set of pictures he created were simply mirror images of the original photo facing each other. “I took an image with essentially no symmetry and created it,” he explains. “Our eyes love symmetry.”

Then he went one step further and used the computer program to take a “wedge” from the reflection photograph to repeat it into a rose pattern. He wanted this set to resemble stained glass windows, and the result is mesmerizing.

His third set of photographs became extremely detailed, as he used the program to once more take another “wedge” from one of the stained-glass-window photos. “There are intricate patterns [in these],” he explains. “Some people say it reminds them of fractals.”

Chapman considers his work in both the mathematics fields and the art world to be a “fun interplay” and “intertwined, if indirectly.” His photographs take the aesthetic basics of symmetry, pattern and color, and rework them into interesting and attention-grabbing pieces of art.

Personally, he is especially intrigued by the interaction of the “artificiality of the mathematical patterns and the organic naturalness of the original photos.”

Although a self-proclaimed amateur artist since the sixth grade, Chapman has never had more than had “a piece here or there” in art shows. But through a fortuitous connection with Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Tracy Edmunds, he will now have his own gallery opening. How does this feel to him?

“I’m nervous and excited with the anticipation, having never really been in the art world but always fascinated with it,” he says. That anticipation is understandable, if not warranted, as Chapman claims the gallery is expecting between two to four thousand people next weekend for the gallery crawl.

The show, entitled “Reflections, Rotations, Symmetries,” will be displayed in the 709 Penn Gallery from today until Nov. 16, with the opening reception tonight at 5.