How did you first get involved in art?
I studied math in college and finished my requirements a little early; I had some freedom with my schedule, had always been a doodler, and took art courses. I loved them - but then college ended and so did my painting - for a few years, anyway.
I tried to just work in the math field but always missed the creativity and pull toward art. I applied for an emerging artist art grant in 2010 for $3,000. That was it - I got the grant, quit my job. I moved back in with my parents, renovated their little chicken coop, and turned it into my studio. As crazy as that was, I have never regretted those decisions for a minute.
What is your academic background?
I earned my BA in Mathematics at Luther College in 2006. I took introductory art courses at Luther College, then went back to the University of Minnesota and got a BFA in Studio Art in 2012.
Where & from whom do you draw inspiration?
Curiosities, brainteasers, old math textbooks, notes, math articles, my husband (who is also a math enthusiast), floor tiles - I swear they are coded at times! - patterns, and anything symmetrical.
[My taste in] specific artists [is] all over. I have books on Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman that I repeatedly dig through. And I love the inspirational writing of Rainer Rilke.
What is your connection with the Foundry Art Centre? How did you discover it?
I discovered the Foundry Art Centre through a Call For Artists posted on the mnartists.org website. I usually check there weekly to see if there are any new opportunities. When I saw The Nth Degree call, I sent in my submission immediately.
In your award-winning piece, Number System Base 16, you mention in your artist statement that you collaborated with a composer to create this mathematical composition. How did you arrive at this concept and what is music's connection with mathematics?
I have dabbled with music since 2012. I had been exploring number systems and making gridded works based on their patterns. Taking a step away from the doodles, it looked kind of like piano music to me. So, not knowing anything more than the piano lessons I took as a kid, I simply translated blank spaces for rests and assigned the grids to piano notes. It played out to be a simple, lovely, rhythmic piece.
Then, in 2015, there was a call out by the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis for a Emerging Composers Grant. A friend of mine majored in Music in college; I hadn't talked to him in 10 years, but sent him an email to see if it would be something we could do together. He had his PhD in Music Composition and said it was right up his alley. We used number systems to complete both paintings and musical compositions. The colors, patterns, and grid of the painting perfectly matches the rhythm, notes, and dynamics of the music. His music is far more technical and elaborate. We had a performance in January 2016 and have done 2 other projects since.
Listen to the music that inspired the composition of Number Base System 16:
What are you currently working on?
I had a big show in Michigan this past fall, and then had a baby. [The show] was great - I worked nonstop for months and got a few large-scale math pieces finished before the baby. That allowed me to truly relax and feel accomplished when baby Timothy arrived. The first project I agreed to do this past winter was illustrate a children's book. I just finished, [it was a] fun experience.
Next up, I am in a show called "Rhythm" in Minneapolis this summer and I have a Math/Art show at St. Olaf College this upcoming fall. I have been doing a few visits to local schools, working in both math and art classrooms, painting and talking about math and art.
I feel really lucky. I truly love and am excited about all of the above.
What do you strive to communicate to students on your school visits concerning math & art's connection?
Math isn't as scary or foreign or even hard as it is made to seem. The vocabulary of math is tough since we don't use it outside of the classroom; same with the symbols. We have super short class periods, so instead of learning the math, we are kind of forced to memorize some crazy process and hope it works.
When I visit classrooms, we break things down. We paint, recognize patterns, and talk about them. Then I introduce vocabulary and symbols so we have this scary math broken down and understood before it can seem too crazy or before we lose the kids' attention. I try to make math hands-on, approachable, doable, and fun for everyone.
I taught high school math for a few years. The calendar is so rigorous that it is hard to do this daily, but that's what I love about my position now. I get to go in [to schools] and explore math with the kids for learning. It's great. And the artwork that results is super motivating for me, too. So, it's win-win.
How do you connect with people through your art?
I am obsessed with math and puzzles, and knowing - not just memorizing. I am super visual and it helps me to understand math if I draw it, paint it, talk about it, share it, and learn from it.
I am always thinking about my next concept, painting, or always trying to figure out the pattern in the floor tiles. I think I connect to people through my crazy.
Everyone has a thing, something that gets them giddy. Sometimes, people share that obsession or math curiosity with me and that makes for some really motivating, fun conversations. But sometimes people just appreciate my efforts in exploring my 'thing' - my math. And that is a connection as well, if that makes sense.
What in particular is attractive to you about mathematics? Why is it worth communicating through art?
It's hard to put into words... I love math because it is explorable. There is always something new to learn, to see, and to discover. The minute you solve one problem, it opens so many more doors for solutions to future problems.
I really love understanding things completely. I swear I am incapable of memorization. If I just try to learn a process, it's lost to me and forgotten soon after. But, if I figure things out for myself - strip the math of its scary numbers and symbols - and just focus on the patterns and expiration... that's where true learning and understanding comes in.
What do you enjoy doing aside from art?
I have a 2 year old and a 7 month old. So, sleeping sounds pretty great most of the time. Kidding! I enjoy any sort of puzzle, brain teaser, crossword, my boys, and anything outdoors.
I run a small paint studio in our town and currently just love to teach art and painting classes to anyone and everyone. It's fun to share art with others and allow them to simply explore their talents.
View Emily Victory's award-winning artwork in Gallery II of The Nth Degree, on view through Friday, June 9, 2017. Be sure to like Emily's page on Facebook and follow her on Instagram for updates on her latest projects.
Article by Jillian Schoettle.