Millington man mixes science and art
Sam Bleecker paints by numbers – literally
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
BY BRIAN WOODS
LONG HILL TWP. – Science and art are two dishes people wouldn’t normally mix, but for Millington resident Sam Bleecker, it’s his natural diet.
Bleecker finds beauty in numbers. He thinks quantum mechanics is poetic. And he’s spent countless hours working on his own theory, which is that science and math can be aesthetically pleasing to anyone.
Bleecker, a 70-year-old township resident who has recently exhibited his art at the Long Hill Library, experimented with art in college, but never made it his full time interest. He graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biochemistry and biophysics, became a physicist, worked in Bell Labs and opened his own consulting business.
It wasn’t until his 50s when Bleecker’s love of art couldn’t be held back from his scientific mind. “In college I used to doodle a lot, but I never did any art seriously until about the late 1990’s,” said Bleecker.
For some, Bleecker’s switch from a scientist to an artist would be monumental, but for him, it was just a transition until he felt comfortable enough to bring his two interests together.
Bleecker started his serious endeavor into art with oil paintings and what he calls “realistic” works. His house is filled with many of the portraits he drew in the beginning of his journey, but one could sense that realistic art with a lack of interpretation wasn’t his true passion.
After becoming more comfortable with his artistic talents, Bleecker started to paint more abstract pieces.
“You can’t express your ideas if you don’t have a certain skill or a certain level of craftsmanship,” said Bleecker. “When I started to get better at it and trusted my instincts, I went from being very careful and trying to do realistic work and loosened up and began to experiment with impressionism. Then I experimented with a little bit of Cubism, because that was one of the most obvious forms in applying scientific theory to art.”
After years of practice and learning how to turn a blank canvas into something beautiful, Bleecker felt it was time to ditch the constraints of following conventional art paths and create his own.
“All of us are engaged by a process of discovery, and the path that I’m on is affected by science and art,” said Bleecker. “Once you are trained to think like a scientist it doesn’t leave you, so whatever you do for the rest of your life is going to be viewed through those filters.”
Bleecker started his foray into scientific art with the most basic form of math and science he could think of, numbers.
Once he started incorporating numbers, he also started to mix in new materials. Bleecker would take the New York Times financial pages, paste them onto a canvas, and then use wax, paint, and stencils to draw numbers in different designs over the Journal’s pages. These paintings have clear numbers in chaotic sequences, but Bleecker also worked hard to accentuate the blank spaces between the numbers.
“The blank space is just as important, sometimes more important,” said Bleecker.
Bleecker was quick to point out how much happier he became when all his interests started to come together, but even though he took joy creating his own art, he still had a desire for others to see what he sees, which is beauty in numbers.
“I would like people to see numbers in a new way, that they just don’t express how many groceries you’ve purchased or how much money you have, that numbers are aesthetic, they have an intrinsic beauty,” said Bleecker.
“The way some people paint nudes and breasts and look at them as aesthetic and get emotional, I get emotional over numbers,” said Bleecker with a laugh.
Once he started to find success in making art out of numbers, Bleecker started to experiment with more complex science.
He started to add different geometric shapes to his pieces, because geometric shapes could be represented through algebraic expression. He wanted to relay how numbers could make shapes.
From there Bleecker opened up, and started to look at a canvas as if it were a universe in itself.
“I take a canvas and do something that would look biological or cosmic, a shape that makes me feel like I was representing a deeper concept,” said Bleecker.
Instead of just painting his own universe on a canvas, Bleecker used shredded pieces of paper and acrylics to represent different scientific principles through art. He touched on quantum physics and explained that particles are constantly being created and destroyed in space, that there is no such thing as empty space. Bleecker showed this “quantum chaos” by creating three-dimensional works that look like bubbling cauldrons of particles exploding off a canvas.
To onlookers, a lot of his paintings and collages are chaotic, but in Bleecker’s words, there is always order in chaos.
“Things are both ordered and disordered. There can be chance and randomness in something and it can still become ordered. You just drip paint on a canvas, but you order it in a certain way and it becomes aesthetic. Some people just start painting and don’t know what they are going to achieve. I have to have a concept. I can’t paint without a concept first,” said Bleecker.
“I look at the canvas as a universe itself. Then I try to cut it up and reassemble it so the universe was looked at in odd ways, but it was very organized,” continued Bleecker, trying to explain his work.
Not everyone who may view his painting has a knowledge of things like quantum physics and string theory, but that’s fine with Bleecker, as long as they can relate to the beauty of the art work on some level.
After all, not many people studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics at Yale University. Bleecker’s wife, Arline, says he has the left and right brain working together, or a yin and yang between creativity and science that most people don’t often achieve.
Recently, Bleecker constructed a vertical piece in which colorful shreds of paper flow downward in what he saw as representing the “chaos of the quantum world.” But to many it looks like an abstract river. No interpretation is incorrect.
“He’s not opinionated, because science leaves room for knowledge that hasn’t yet been discovered,” said Arline.
If Bleecker can get someone to see beauty in what he portrays as science, then he did his job.
“If someone doesn’t bring the mathematical or scientific knowledge to my work then hopefully they look at it and just think it is a nice painting,” said Bleecker.