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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Maths finds logic in art
Sculpture by John Pickering
Pickering found drawing frustrating

The Royal Society of British Sculptors is hosting an exhibition of cardboard models by the artist John Pickering.

At 68 years old, he remains virtually unknown to the art world; partly because his work defies categorisation and partly because self-publicity is not on his agenda.

He lives with his two brothers in Wolverhampton, sealed off from the world amongst his notes and models.

Pickering was born on in 1934 and studied Classical Sculpture and Life Drawing. After finishing his studies, he worked as a stone mason and wood pattern maker.

Making sense of geometry
Pickering taught himself mathematics for 30 years

From his early 20s he suffered from chronic arthritis and, just as his career as a stone mason was beginning, he was forced to give up the physically demanding carving work.

He returned to the less arduous media of drawing, but became increasingly frustrated with it as a means of expression.

He must have been deeply influenced by his brothers - the one, his twin, is a retired maths teacher and the other is an architect - for he began studying geometry in the early 1970s.

"You can go around and around in circles with intuitive art but that isn't enough and you've got to get past the influences of conventional 20th Century art," he has said.

For 30 years he has taught himself mathematics. He has become more and more deeply engrossed in the exploration of mathematical ideas that encompass topology and three-dimensional geometry, following his instincts rather than any formal agenda or curriculum.

From this strange 30-year labour have emerged a group of small "working" models meticulously constructed from interlocking sheets of precisely shaped cardboard.


You get freedom of expression through knowledge

John Pickering
The models are representations of equations that he finds difficult to articulate or explain.

It is easy to get lost amongst the myriad of triangular and polygonal facets, each poised vertex-to-vertex, disappearing off in all three dimensions like an Escher repeating pattern.

But the patterns are not repeating. The patterns are constructed along the locii of curves in space that spiral outwards according to precise mathematical equations.

In this day of sophisticated graphics and fractal geometry generated by software on the monitor of a computer it is easy to become critical of the globs of glue, imperfections in the joints and dog-eared leafs of cardboard in Pickering's work.

One should not misunderstand what one is looking at. He is not a part of the 21st Century computer age.

Sculpture by John Pickering
Pickering's god-daughter persuaded him to exhibit
Frail and twisted by arthritis and on huge doses of a new drug called Embrol, he works alone using pencil and paper and without computer in a garden shed in Wolverhampton listening to Schoenberg - not in a high-tech lab in Palo Alto, California.

Introvert

Left to his own devices, he would have remained unknown. It is a credit to his god-daughter Becca Ivatts that he has been persuaded to "come out" and allow his work to be displayed in the RBS.

To me, the exhibition and the life of "Pick" represents the battle of humility, purity and austerity over mass technology.

The work exhibits a kind of compulsion all too well known as the trait of a Virgo. As he says: "I'm all for rigor. You get freedom of expression through knowledge."

I hope there are more people like John working away in garden sheds in Wolverhampton.

The exhibition is at the Royal Society of British Sculptors from 28 June to 20 July 2002.

See also:

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