Man Ray and Mathematics
Kummer Surface with Eight Real Double Points
Brill-Schilling Collection. Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris. Photo: Elie Posner
Plaster with metal supports, c. 1900.View Detail
Collection L. Malle, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015.
Gelatin silver print, c. 1934-1935View Detail
Shakespearean Equation, King Lear
Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015.
Oil on canvas, 1948View Detail
When Man Ray first saw visited the Institute Henri Poincaré, he was attracted to the mathematical objects for aesthetic purposes. These models were created in the latter half of the 19th century for the purpose of illustrating and teaching algebraic equations. Captivated by the shadow and form of the models, he photographed them, manipulating the appearance through lighting and composition, and emphasizing the “human and anatomical associations” of the objects. Do you see these as human? What is the Kummer Surface? Compare the mathematical object to it's photograph. If you were to connect the mathematical object itself with an artistic rendering, would you have synthesized the concepts in the same way as Man Ray?
Later in life, he said that the mathematical equations had no impact on him, but instead he was interested in the tactile qualities they possessed for “the forms themselves were as varied and authentic as any in nature.” He liked that they were stored in a dark basement, covered in dust, and “the fact that they were man-made was of importance to me.” He photographed the mathematical objects in various views but utilized one light source and had a solid dark background for almost all of his photographs.
Man Ray's King Lear
Leading up to the years he created the Shakespearean paintings, he used his photographs as a source of inspiration for creating sketches of the objects. It is in these sketches that he began to connect to the mathematical objects, ‘humanizing’ them through color use and placement. In 1948 he painted King Lear after many sketches. He made little alteration from the photograph to the painting except to increase the tilt of the object towards the viewer, causing the object to appear longer and more flat. What mathematical forms do you see remaining in the painting? Shapes, lines, a sequence? The shadows in the photograph are more pronounced and the object’s top appears to glow; however, in the painting, Man Ray choose a color palette that is muted and did not exaggerate the shadows. He emphasized the ‘painterly-ness’ (and human touch) of his process by including drips of paint on the bottom left side of the object. He placed the painting within a circle object, providing even more shapes within this piece. Is Man Ray's process evident in this work of art? How so?