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Art vs. Mathematics and How to Get Something from Nothing: An interview with Markus Rissanen

I wrote previously about Markus Rissanen when I still didn’t know him personally. Markus is a professional artist who has been fascinated by tilings and their mathematical properties such as symmetries and regularities ever since he was very young. As explained in my previous post, Markus eventually solved the problem of generalising some quasiperiodic properties of Penrose tilings from 5-fold symmetry to n-fold symmetry for any positive integer n. In this interview we briefly touch the subject of tilings. Then we talk about the difference between mathematical work, artistic work and the work of writing a PhD thesis in which Markus was engaged for the past four years. I got to ask him a question that has been bothering me for a long time: Why don’t artists, especially painters do joint work? At least significantly less frequently than, say, mathematicians, who are traditionally considered to be “lonely workers” (not the case! See my interview with Olli Martio). Another important topic we touch upon is what to do when you do not have inspiration? Here is part of Markus’ answer:

The wisest thing is to just do something; pick old sketches and try to do some experiments… suddenly you will see some small things, and then it starts developing. I find this amazing. How does this actually evolve? First you have nothing and then you have something pop out of the blue! It would be great to have [inspiration] bottled up so that you could take it from the shelf whenever you need it.

I also asked Markus about his most inspiring moments in his working life. One of them was when he had singlehandedly “developed” the theory behind perspective. Another is related to his work with tilings (which was eventually published in the Journal of Discrete and Computational Geometry co-authored with the mathematician Jarkko Kari). These pictures are taken at the exhibition in Galleria Heino:



Stream the whole interview from here:

Download the mp3-file from here

Notes and line-up:

04:45 How we met
06:45 Supervisors Jan Svenungsson and Tapio Markkanen
08:00 Tilings
14:15 Comparing mathematical and artistic work

I enjoyed doing the math compared to art, because in art I can [just] paint
over… but in math there are strict and inspiring boundary conditions

18:15 Why are there no tilings in your paintings?
22:00 Using overhead projector (piirtoheitin) as a painting tool.
25:20 Do you plan your drawings with a computer? (No.)
28:25 How Markus’ style became what it is.
30:00 Do you have periods when you work a lot vs. less productive periods or do you have a steady workflow?
31:30 How do you compare working with art pieces vs. writing PhD?
32:20 Professional life vs personal life. Working in studio 4-5 hours.
33:45 Working at night. Creativity vs. concentration.
34:45 Best conditions for concentration and creativity? 5 seconds a year vs 24 seconds per day.
36:00 Do you find art lonely?
37:35 Why don’t artists make joint work?

Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat have collaboration paintings which, alas, are less valued than their individual paintings.

40:45 What would you say if your colleague approached you and asked if you can make a painting together?
42:00 Motivation, discipline or passion? What to do when the motivation is low?

Just start doing something when you are not motivated.

44:55 How something pops out from nothing

It would be nice to have it bottled up and take it from the shelf when you need it.

46:00 What is the greatest work-related moment you have ever experienced?
52:00 Does art enter your dreams or vice versa (do your painting have inspiration from dreams)?
55:00 What would you tell your 20-year-old self?


Note: if you don’t like listening and prefer reading instead, all the interviews are being transcribed and I will publish them as an e-book. If you want to know when the book is released, subscribe to my e-mail newsletter below.

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