Algorithm I
30" x 36"
acrylic  on canvas
Private Collection, Houston, Texas
Friedkin Companies Campus, Hunting Art Prize Gala, Houston, 36th Hunting Art Prize, May 1, 2010
Houston, Texas, Allegories, December 7, 2009

Algorithm I is the first of the Chaos Theory paintings by John Jenkins.  The goal of these works is to explore the development and application of chaos theory in visual terms as it applies to art, art history and the relationship between artist, viewer and subject.

            The Algorithm paintings are divided into “arguments.”  Each panel presents an idea or sub-theory that when combined with the other presented arguments illuminates a specific area of chaos theory.

Argument One:  Algorithm I is dominated on the left by a portrait of Elizabeth Montague, which has been derived from an original work by the British artist Thomas Gainsborough.  Montague’s portrait had been painted several years earlier by Gainsborough’s rival, Sir Joshua Reynolds.   As the President of the Royal Academy in England during the late 1700’s, Reynolds wrote disapprovingly of Gainsborough’s painting technique.

“…all those odd scratches and marks, which, on close examination, are so observable in Gainsborough’s pictures, and which even to experienced painters appear rather the effect of accident than design;  this chaos, this uncouth and shapeless appearance, by a kind of magick, at a certain distance assumes form, and all the parts seem to drop into their proper places.”

This reference to chaos in Reynolds’ critique brings to light an interesting correlation between the two artists.  Gainsborough utilizes a much more dynamic and “chaotic” method of brushwork that forces the viewer’s eye to create the image out of the markings of paint on the canvas.  Reynolds preferred a smoother and more classical approach to painting that allowed it to be universally understood and accessible to any viewer.

Argument Two:  The slim band dividing the work from top to bottom is filled with shades of gray.  Neither a true black nor a true white is achieved in this band.  A gray area is a term for a border in-between two or more things that is unclearly defined, a border that is hard to define or even impossible to define, or a definition where the distinction border tends to move. 


This argument concerns the lack of any absolutes in theoretical models, including the chaos theory.


Argument Three:  The second major element of Algorithm I is a starchart derived from the Harmonia Macrocosmica by Andreas Cellarius.  Most viewers will be familiar with the icons and symbology presented as a map of the stars in the sky.  The forms of animals and mythological beings created from the star patterns however, may not be entirely familiar. 


The process of mapping the heavens by creating recognizable patterns from groups of celestial bodies is a method of bringing order to a chaotic element.  The figures and creatures represented in the map function to subdivide the stars into understandable groupings. 


By overlaying the imagination of a viewer we no longer see a chaotic array of stars, but specific characters and symbols.  As time progresses these figures gain their own histories, authority and narrative until the importance of the actual stars is diminished.


Argument Four:  The final band of Algorithm I is a band of dark colors which represent the sequencing of DNA.  This band references Jenkins’ earlier work, genomic, which dealt with the mapping of human genomes.  Arguments 3 and 4 are similar in terms of quantifying chaos by subdividing it. One is concerned with the macrocosmic view, the other with the microcosmic view.


The combination of the four arguments presented in Algorithm I relate in the matter of observation.  Chaos in its natural state cannot be understood by the human mind and must be divided into controlled areas to extrapolate patterns.  In the brushstrokes of pigments that become an eye or in the superimposition of a familiar figure over a group of stars, it is in this purposeful segregation of seemingly random elements that the first  lesson of chaos theory lies.  This is known as “deterministic chaos,” in which dynamics of complex systems, whose behavior appears random, actually follows rigid laws.