Large mathematical painting
Tom Kreisler

1968

Tom Kreisler
b.
1938
Title:
Large mathematical painting
Production date:
1968
Accession No:
79/40
Measurements:
2235 x 1585mm
Media:
Acrylic on canvas

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Gifted to the Gallery by the artist in 1979.

Tom Kreisler’s art is unusual in New Zealand art history for its lightness and humour. An Austro-Hungarian-Argentinean Jew, who lived for most of his life in New Plymouth, and for whom English was a third language after German and Spanish, Kreisler was never satisfied with convention. His paintings delight in wreaking havoc with codes and languages, making what is clear and straightforward indeterminate and slippery. In Large Mathematical Painting, Kreisler makes the seemingly sensible, purposeful language of mathematics malleable and inconclusive.

Large Mathematical Painting resembles an equation jotted into a ruled notebook. The structure of lines and numbers references the grid forms ubiquitous in the work of Modernist masters, like Piet Mondrian and Sol LeWitt while also taking a sly dig at our local master, Colin McCahon and his Numerals paintings. However, Kreisler muddies the waters of abstract modularity by keeping his painting purely provisional. More like a scribbled note-to-self by a mathematical savant than a meditation on purity, horizontals and verticals, Large Mathematical Painting seems like a haphazard sort of equation. For one, the lines aren’t even straight. In addition, the beginning and end of the equation are cropped off, as if to suggest that outside the frame the numbers march endlessly on, ballooning in size.

Kreisler does provide a clue for the sharp-eyed. The multipliers down the right-hand column are units of time; multiplying, to be precise, the speed of light. It is as if the artist has been feverishly calculating the distance that light has travelled since some seminal event, or perhaps in anticipation of a future cataclysm. The viewer is given partial information, as if by the tantalising discovery of a page torn from a notebook. Any ultimate purpose the equation might serve is teasingly withheld, but what the painting does provide is a calculated exercise in reading and proposing connections.