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Sane and Insane


A conversation with cover artist Tim Eads~


OLM: Your mandalas are endlessly absorbing — the eye that begins to trace its path along their mathematics is quickly detoured by their beauty, brash colors, 3-d illusions, and so loops continually through different ways of looking. What’s your process like in designing and creating one of these pictures? Do you use a compass and a pencil? Or do you draw it freehand, Giotto-style?

Tim: Thanks. These are actually all computer generated using Adobe Illustrator. The program allows me to cycle through a lot of ideas and color choices quickly. It’s harder than it sounds, though. It takes quite a bit of experimentation, layering, and failure before coming up with something that I find interesting. I often visit designs several times after I complete them tweak them before making a final decision. One of advantages that the computer has over hand drawing them is they can be enlarged without loosing quality. I’ve generated over 150 of these in the last 2 years. My original inspiration for them was the Spirograph toy. I loved playing with one growing up and was entertained for hours.

OLM: The imagined textures of these Mandalas are so wondrously varied: wet, soft, serrated, aglow; at what point does color enter the picture, or depth. Do you see these things with your eyes closed before you make them or is the gradual discovery of the shapes and they sensations they’ll evoke a part of your creative process?

Tim: They develop gradually. I always start with simple shapes like circles and squares. These get combined, layered and transformed into more complex shapes. After deciding on a shape I add color then rotate them around a center point. The final design varies a lot based on the point that I rotate the design around. I often make 5 or 6 variations before deciding to move forward. At this point there is still quite a bit of tweaking involved to get the colors just right. I also play with the transparency a lot which mixes the layers to add additional color and depth.

OLM: The major unifying point I can see between your 2d and 3d work is the idea of complexity and the attraction to what’s difficult. Do you especially admire complexity when you’re at a gallery? It’s hard to picture you gawking at a Motherwell. Or do you appreciate the kind of work you yourself wouldn’t make?

Tim: Actually I like both simple and complex systems. I am equally drawn to say Diana Al-Hadid’s work and to Carl Andre’s. I disagree about Motherwell’s work. I believe one of the reasons his work has stood the test of time is the paintings have a lot of depth in them. I tend to want to make work that is “controlled chaos.” Things can’t just be slapped together in a precarious way. For example in Twenty, two bike pumps blow air into hoses that move a pinwheel. The entire installation only takes a few hours to install, but the pinwheel was handmade. I created the design, carefully cut it out and folded it — days were spent on it. Likewise, the mandalas tend to be insanely complex, but within a controlled area. I enjoy the dichotomy of the sane and insane.

OLM: “Controlled Chaos” is a nice description of Tibetan mandalas too — the gates of human perception framing the unknowable inner- & outer worlds of creation. How do you generally frame and display these mandalas and what sort of reactions have you heard from those viewers who’ve spent time with them.

Tim: I agree. In fact, many religions use the mandala type form to represent “Controlled Chaos.” Stained glass windows are an example I have a closer relationship to because I grew up going to a church that had huge vaulted ceilings and massive stained glass windows. They intrigued me for hours. As a consequence, I felt the the designs should be illuminated. They are printed on a translucent film and placed in front of a grid of LED lights. People seem to be completely fascinated by them. I think it’s the complex geometry that many of designs have. I believe humans are subconsciously drawn to structure.

OLM: Could you tell us a little about Twenty? That’s not the butter-churn piece, is it?

Tim: Twenty is a piece I made in 2009 for my degree show. Since then I installed it at the University of Delaware Gallery Crane Arts building in Philadelphia. It was great to see the installation take on a new form in a different location. A video of the installation can be seen here. Twenty is an interactive installation where the viewer pumps one of two bike pumps in the room. After twenty pumps, the air travels through 400 feet of air hose and blows a small pinwheel. The piece brings up another common theme in my work which is the idea of inefficient mechanisms. Twenty falls into this category because it takes twenty pumps to get enough air to blow the pinwheel — quite ridiculous if you ask me.

The pedal-operated butter churn that generates electricity to run a toaster is titled 3,178 minus 366. 3,178 is the approximate number of calories in a pound of butter, 366 is the approximate number of calories burned to make the butter on the bike (about 30 minutes) A video of the piece can be seen here. I made the piece using funds that I raised on Kickstarter.com. During the show I schedule butter making events where viewers can pedal to make butter. Monday was one such event — we made over 10 pounds of butter in 2 hours. The piece is currently on view through June at the Princeton Arts Council in Princeton, NJ.

OLM: What are you working on now?

Tim: I have been working on some new ideas for the mandala pieces. I’d like to start building round frames for them and experiment with including them in larger installations. I’m also making a bubble machine that I want to roll through busy Philadelphia streets. For reference I’ve included another bubble machine I just finished. I’m in a small group show in the Spring at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art called Contraptions. I’m working on an interactive piece for that show. It’s not resolved enough to talk about.


Tim Eads grew up in Texas, and now lives and works in Philadelphia. Visit: http://www.thisistimeads.com/


— interview by Katie Caron and John Cotter