Credit: Bahman Kalantari
The finished Alinasab carpet is on
display through June at the Institut
Henri Poincaré in Paris.
Bahman Kalantari is truly an artist of the Information Age, not just because he is living in it but also by virtue of his being a computer scientist who creates art based on mathematical theory. As an associate professor in Rutgers’ computer science department in New Brunswick, his research pursuits have led him from studies of square roots and polynomial equations to gallery exhibitions in the United States and Paris.
“It is mathematical artistry,” said his department chair, Haym Hirsh.
Today Kalantari’s creations hang on the walls of the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris as part of an exhibition titled “Mathématiques & Arts.” It is most appropriate for Kalantari’s work to be exhibited in a city acknowledged as a center of both scientific and artistic innovation, home to the likes of Pasteur and the Curies, as well as such painters as Renoir, Degas and Picasso.
Polynomiography, as Kalantari calls it, is the visualizing of polynomial equations, but it is much more than simply generating computer graphics based on mathematical formulas.
“There is a tremendous amount of artistry going on in the work,” said Judith Brodsky, professor emerita of Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts. “It is more than just a matter of taking these patterns and using them as they emerge, but they are the basic materials from which he is making the art,” Brodsky said. “He is picking and choosing from among the patterns, selecting segments and elements, and adding the colors. All this comes from his intuition as an artist.”
“The visual results are often elegant,” wrote Claude Bruter, a professor at Université Paris 12 Mathématiques, in his introduction to the Poincaré exhibition. “This method has led [Kalantari] to develop a new and powerful method of artistic creation, still unknown in France, a playful and instructive technique where mathematics helps art, which gratefully, comes to support mathematics.”
While Kalantari finds the creation of art with mathematical tools gratifying, he yearns to introduce polynomiography as an artistic tool others can employ. He has demonstrated the technique in high schools, capturing the attention and imagination of the students, and evoking offers to purchase the software.
Therein lies the rub: The software is not ready for prime time. A team of Rutgers M.B.A. students took it on as a project and concluded that, while there is a market, the software needs further development to make it more user-friendly. Kalantari recognizes this: He said that releasing the software in its current form would turn his life into “a 24/7 help line.” To take it to the next level, however, requires funding.
Kalantari has pursued grants from the National Science Foundation and other sources, but polynomiography’s uniqueness is its downfall. It doesn’t fit into a category: Artists view it as science and the science community thinks it is art, which leaves it without a clear-cut route to funding support. Even with his catalog of accolades, the artistic path is fraught with obstacles.
“I haven’t lost my enthusiasm yet,” said Kalantari, who continues to proselytize for polynomiography. He travels to meetings, delivers lectures, publishes articles and maintains a seductively attractive and informative Web site www.polynomiography.com – all at his own expense. And he is working with carpet weavers in his native Iran, transforming his designs into Persian masterpieces.
Kalantari is committed to his craft, “science and art crossing over,” as Brodsky described it. Unlike many before him – Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt and others – Kalantari has no intention of going unrecognized by his peers.