At first glance, artwork by Michelle Chandra strikes the viewer with its symmetry, its perfection, and the detailed line work that reveals itself as one edges closer. Design exists because certain configurations, layouts, and art feels good to us when proportional, linear, or balanced. This sense of OCD satisfaction that arises when viewing Michelle’s work is only expounded upon when you begin to understand how we turns math into art with these calculated works.
It was fun delving into her background, process, momentum, and creative perspective in our latest interview with the woman behind Dirt Alley Design.
Evan La Ruffa: Hey Michelle! So glad to have connected with you. My eye is drawn to symmetry as much as the next person and after seeing a bit more about how you create your work, I had to reach out. How’s it going? What’s new?
Michelle Chandra: Things are good! There are a lot of things coming together right now with my new spirograph prints that I am really excited about. It feels like there is a lot of good energy propelling things forward for me as an artist, which is reassuring.
EL: Tell us a little bit about your background & where you’re from.
Michelle Chandra: I am originally from Arizona and California. I am a first generation American, the daughter of immigrants. My dad is from India, my mom is from Ireland, they met in England, and then moved to the US!
EL: That’s awesome. I have a similar background actually …. father from Argentina, mom from Kansas, met in Spain, then settled in Chicago, where I was born. I really love the way you speak about your work. On your website you say “I Create the Art I’d Like to Own: Fun, Interactive, Eye-Catching.” That’s awesome. Was your work always fairly similar to what you’re doing now, or has it changed a lot?
Michelle Chandra: Like many people drawn to creativity and the arts, I have tried my hand at a lot of different crafts starting when I was a kid when the local librarian introduced me to the origami section at the library. As a teenager, I made complex beaded jewelry and thought I wanted to be a jewelry designer. But I also loved the written word, and ended up studying English literature in undergrad. I wrote poems and dabbled in zine and printmaking, then switched interests to photography and abstract painting. A lot of the work I made in my twenties was made for therapeutic reasons, the resulting work was dreamy, surreal, and highly personal.
When I went to graduate school, I was encouraged to make work that while being related to a personal interest of mine, was also work that I made meaningful to others. That’s when I realized I was really into data as an art form, including maps and cartography, and that I wanted to be a self-employed artist.
My interests keep morphing though, which I imagine won’t stop any time soon! I really enjoy creating work that resonates with many people, and enjoy connecting with others over a shared love of symmetry, math, data art and geometry!
EL: I was particularly drawn to your Spirograph prints, they’re also the first body of work of yours I saw. Can you tell us about the process and concept behind both those and the Maze Maps?
Michelle Chandra: My spirograph art prints started as a programming project during one of my classes in graduate school. The initial spirograph program was an animation that drew on top of itself over time. The project sat dormant after I graduated for many years, until I decided to revisit it as a 100 Day Project I documented on Instagram (and recently finished!) A lot of the initial work was simplifying the animation to something that could be drawn using a pen plotter (a robotic drawing machine!) and teasing out the forms I had initially found interesting in the animation version as standalone designs.
When I was in graduate school, I had a tendency to make things more complicated than they needed to be. Since graduating, I have become better at simplifying. When I revisited the project, I knew there was good promise in the initial program, and simplifying the program brought those interesting forms to light in a way that I missed with the first iteration of the project. It’s been cool to see how I could change an old project and morph it into something new a few years later just by bringing different experiences and knowledge to the project.
My maze maps started as an idea I had mid-graduate school — that the experience of navigating a city feels like a maze, and that it would be fun to make maps of cities that were actual mazes! It was my first print line, and I learned a lot about being a self-employed artist. It made launching my spirograph prints a few years later a lot easier.
EL: So cool. The confluence of art and math seems improbable if we think simplistically, but it’s awesome to see various ways of making prints. How did you discover this type of process?
Michelle Chandra: I became interested in generative art (art made programmatically) when I took my first programming class with Daniel Shiffman during graduate school at NYU. There were so many things I really liked about programming art that worked with how I think about things! For instance, the idea of recursion in which the same rules are applied iteratively over and over again. Or the idea of “breaking” things (by perhaps programming something the “wrong” way, mistakes can be revelations!)
When I am making art programmatically, every time I run the program feels like a new discovery. I can create work that is incredibly detailed and precise, to the point that it would be very difficult to draw the design myself.
The patterns I am creating are based on mathematical waveforms, and rotational symmetry, so the resulting forms remind people of many different things like flowers and fabric. I really like hearing feedback from people about what forms they see in the designs!
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