When arts collide: US artist inspired by Islamic design

For US artist Anne Morgan Spalter a long-held passion for the geometry of Arabic design, combined with a cultural exchange trip to Dubai, provided the inspiration for her most recent exhibition. She talks to Vision.ae about fusing East/West aesthetics

Internationally acclaimed artist Anne Morgan Spalter from Rhode Island, US, has a long-held fascination with Arabic art, stemming from a class taken at Brown University back in the 1980s. Holding a triple major BA in Mathematics, Visual Art and Independent Studies, Spalter describes how she takes the same satisfaction from the visual power of geometrical art works as she does from reading an elegant mathematical proof. She says: “I was fascinated by the use of geometry and patterning and the surprising intensity of the effect in sacred architectural spaces – for instance, the powerful stripes in the mosque at Cordoba.”

Her inaugural New York City show, Traffic Circle, inspired by this interest in Islamic art and her mathematical and technological background (Spalter is also the author of The Computer in the Visual Arts) uses a “symmetrical kaleidoscopic framework to bring order to complexity”, and came about in part following a cultural exchange trip to Dubai last year – for which Spalter wished to take a gift of art.

Spalter explains: “I was trying to decide what pieces to take to Dubai and realised that my work at the time was so very Western – [created using] traditional Western materials (charcoal drawings, etc), with linear perspective. While I enjoyed the abstract aspects of Islamic art and geometrical forms, my own work was unquestionably representational.”

From this admission Spalter identified an opportunity to fuse Eastern and Western, ancient and modern compositional strategies, subsequently laying the foundations for her current exhibition in New York. “I developed a series of kaleidoscopic variations of these [Western] traditional drawings using the computer and its extraordinary computational power. The work went from a Western, 3D perspective to a geometrically patterned Eastern one. The materials went from ancient – burnt wood sticks (charcoal) – to the most modern – computer chips and high-tech printing processes.”

In another unexpected turn in this artistic journey, Spalter decided to try shooting film footage of the landscapes that she found most intriguing and discovered that the medium engaged her in the actual landscapes much more than taking a photo and making a drawing back in the studio would. “The uncontrollable factors of light, weather and the nature of the environment become part of the creative process.”

The series of resulting works are mesmerising in their beauty, combining the modern landscape including iconic New York City locations such as the Rockefeller Centre and 5th Avenue shot in traffic, from high-rise apartments, and from planes, with more abstract, kaleidoscopic elements. Spalter created the artworks featured in Traffic Circle in her home country, but has identified Dubai as a source of further inspiration for her artistic concept, saying: “I would love to go back to Dubai and do a modern landscape video – I think the cityscape there is the future.”

Traffic Circle is showing at Stephen Stoyanov/Luxe Gallery in New York City, 29 November 2011 – 6 January 2012. Click here to watch videos of Anne Morgan Spalter's work