James Mai

Professor of Art
School of Art, Illinois State University
Normal, Illinois, USA
My studio work pursues two lines of inquiry: (A) color systems and illusions and (B) sets of geometric forms derived from permutational and combinatorial methods. I believe that my studio work shares with mathematics a commitment to objective methods, rigorous measurement and enumeration, symmetry, completeness, and abstraction from particulars to general principles. The art works are constrained by additional, not necessarily mathematical, requirements related to perception, illusion, and allusion. My larger purposes are to open up awareness of the direct, visual experience of order, to find the range and limits of a visual apprehension of order, and to probe the often shifting boundaries between subjective and objective worlds.
"Lotus Lake (pentagon)"
35 x 35 cm
archival digital print
2015
The 8 forms in this composition are the complete set of pentagons made from concave and convex edges. Each edge of the pentagon possesses either an inner (concave) or outer (convex) semi-circle. There are 6 combinations of concave + convex edges (from bottom to top of the composition): 5+0 (violet), 4+1 (blue), 3+2 (green), 2+3 (red), 1+4 (orange), and 0+5 (yellow). 2 of these combinations have 2 possible permutations: 3+2 (two green forms) and 2+3 (two red forms).
"Pure Land (hexagon)"
35 x 35 cm
archival digital print
2015
The 13 forms in this composition are the complete set of hexagons made from concave and convex edges. Each edge of the hexagon possesses either an inner (concave) or outer (convex) semi-circle. There are 7 combinations of concave + convex edges: 6+0 (violet), 5+1 (blue-violet), 4+2 (blue), 3+3 (yellow-orange), 2+4 (red), 1+5 (orange), and 0+6 (yellow). 3 of these combinations have 3 possible permutations: 4+2 (three blue forms), 3+3 (three yellow-orange forms), and 2+4 (three red forms).
"Thangka (square)"
35 x 35 cm
archival digital print
2015
This simple set of 6 forms displays all the unique permutations of concave and convex edges of the square. The linear forms are adapted to a study of simultaneous color contrast, the illusory change of a given color due to the influence of changing color contexts. The concave-convex linear forms are colored the same middle-value gray across all 5 circles. The color contrast illusion occurs on 2 levels in this composition: (1) each gray line is apparently changed in hue and value within each circle (one color identity inside the square and another color identity outside the square), and (2) that same gray appears as a different pair of color identities in each of the 5 circles (thus, 10 identities from the selfsame middle-value gray).