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'I'm the first one': Koster success reveals new mathematical art

Nick Hall of Cambridge Vinopolis, left, with Chris Koster surveys the 'Infinite' exhibition at the Mill Road wine merchants. Picture: Keith Heppell
Nick Hall of Cambridge Vinopolis, left, with Chris Koster surveys the 'Infinite' exhibition at the Mill Road wine merchants. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge Vinopolis is well-known as a retailer of quality wines and occasional evening events, but purveyor Nick Hall has added a new string to his bow – an art venue.

Using a side room as a mini-gallery, the first exhibition - 'Infinite' - is now open at the Mill Road wine merchant and runs until Saturday.

Artist Chris Koster’s aluminium and polymer creations are unique. They emerged from his time at Clare College, studying mathematics, and are produced using a “mathematical algorithm” he devised - or discovered.

“It’s aluminium with polymer,” he says of the material used for the pieces on sale. "The image is produced by sublimating a dye on to the surface - actually infusing the dye into the surface. It’s indestructible - you can’t scrape the paint off because it’s not there. It’s done with a press – it's cooked, and then it comes out. That’s the easy bit which I leave to experts.

“I don’t paint any of it. All I’ve done is devise a mathematical formula – it’s a high dimension of space. I spend hours sifting through them all until I stumble on the one I want. I can’t change it. It’s non-iterative: it’s a point in the space. It's done by a formula, it's an expression, a fraction that maps variables in space that maps space on to a particular colour. The formula is the wellspring. It's a static process which is like having a huge field of flowers. They're all grown in the same field, with the same soil, but they're all different.

"I don't get to choose any of the elements of the image: if there's even one bit I don't like I have to throw it away. I call it infinite, though in fact I don't know how many more there are really. But I can't find anyone else doing this sort of thing - there are some who use a mathematical process but this has no correspondence in the physical world so yes, I'm the first one. It's taken ten years to devise. The previous so-called mathematical art I've seen is simple, like a spirograph. Some previous works have been interesting but it's had to be taken to this point before you get the explosion of things pouring out. It makes everything else derivative.”

The Mathematical Bridge, a landmark at Queen's College, celebrates the mathematical tradition in the city
The Mathematical Bridge, a landmark at Queen's College, celebrates the mathematical tradition in the city

So how does it work?

"The mathematical formula gets fed into a special program along with the coordinates of a position in the abstract space - the meta image - and the output is the image at that position. Around this program is an interactive tool I call the Navigator because it lets me move around that space, which I do to find the particular images I choose. The paintings I end of with are the good images, selected from thousands of blank or otherwise uninteresting images. The formula is unchanged for that whole series of paintings, which I've called 'Infinite'. From one painting to the next, the only difference is this position in the higher-dimensional space described by that formula."

Chris gained his mathematics degree in the 1970s.

"I had an uncle who was a renowned artist in a traditional medium. He did it the hard way - this is just as hard, but it's completely non-visible so it's completely different. Most art is on three planes - it's intellectual, but this is technical. It's fascinating. It took 40 years before the art emerged. I was at Clare College in 1977, I've been in Cambridge ever since and have been working on mathematical art for ten years, this is my first breakthrough, which came last year when I devised the formula. The colours are completely imaginary, and it doesn't work in any other medium, but the important bit was finding a way to bring this to the physical world from the depths of mathematics."

It’s taken Chris ten years to circle the corners of this process, so give yourself time - and space - to grasp the immense potential of this new-found art form. Three submissions from Infinite have won places at the Babylon Arts Summer Selected exhibition 2019, so it all adds up to something rather remarkable.


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