(American, b.1982 in Stevens Point, WI. Lives and works in Philadelphia, PA)
Owen Schuh draws his inspiration from mathematical rules, algorithms and complex organic systems. In particular, he is fascinated by simple sets of well-defined rules that generate unexpectedly intricate and nuanced structures. His work is painstakingly created by hand, using at most the aid of a pocket calculator.
Art & Mathematics
The Ancient Greek mathematician, philosopher, and mystic Pythagoras and his followers held that the universe was rational and ruled by mathematical relations. Yet, at the core of this ideal world lay geometric relations that they were not even capable of expressing in their number system. It was almost unthinkable that the patterns they perceived around them in nature could be described by mathematics and yet contain numbers that can only be approximated. Numbers like Pi, the golden ratio, and even something as harmless as the diagonal of a square with sides equal to one, represented profound mysteries which they swore on their lives to keep secret.
"I have been making paintings based on mathematical rules and algorithms for some time now. Although the rules vary from piece to piece the basic process is the same. Starting from some initial input (perhaps a few random drips of paint on a canvas) I employ a function to determine the output (e.g. more paint), that output then becomes the next input until either the function or myself are exhausted. Up until now I had always performed this work by hand. My work seeks to illuminate the entwining relations between embodied mind, mathematics, and the physical world. My artwork is structured by mathematical functions, which though relatively simple in nature yield outcomes of surprising organic complexity. I have created this work by hand using, at most, the aid of a pocket calculator. A mathematical relation may be represented as easily by symbols on a page as drops of paint or an arrangement of beer mugs. Anything can stand for anything, but the underlying structure remains constant. In each piece I strive to manifest phenomena unique to the interaction between the physical medium and the logical structure. Through research and experimentation I choose mathematical functions that model the interactions and structure of living systems. Cellular Automata, circle packing, fractals and other topics in discrete mathematics form the basis of my work. These functions bear the structure of life, but operate in the parallel world of the mind: a world of simulacra inhabited by numbers and abstract relationships. The mathematical formula is a virus that depends on a host to carry out its peculiar kind of life until it terminates or the medium or the artist is exhausted. In the end the painting is really only the physical trace of this activity – a shell left behind on the beach. Although the specter of determinism and reductionism lurks behind every corner I find the process of utilizing mathematical rigor to actually be a liberating one. Though I must submit to the dictates of an algorithm I gain access to new formal and structural possibilities. In most cases, though each step is rigidly determined the end result cannot be predicted ahead of time nor can it be worked backwards to deduce a unique original state. The importance of this work for me lies beyond creating clever algorithms, or beautiful images. It is about understanding the nature and limits of the physical and mental worlds." - Owen Schuh
Initially pursuing biology, Owen earned a degree in fine art and philosophy in 2004 from Haverford College, Philadelphia,PA. In 2007, he received his Masters of Fine Art from The Tyler School of Art, also in Philadelphia, and completed his final year of study in Rome, Italy. Owen returned to Haverford college to teach drawing and painting in 2008 before moving to San Francisco the following year. He has exhibited in Germany, Italy, and throughout the United States, and has lectured occasionally on his work and algorithmic art practice. His work is included in a number of private collections, as well as the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. He volunteers at the San Francisco Exploratorium museum and is a former resident at the artist collective Root Division, where he taught after school classes in origami to under-served public school students.
He is currently involved in a collaboration with the mathematician Satyan Devadoss. Their collaboration thus far has resulted in the exhibit The Cartography of Tree Space at Satellite Berlin (2015).
Owen Schuh is represented by ART 3 in Brooklyn, NY