Thursday, August 28, 2008

Does Jos Leys Have Super-Powers?

It was a dark and stormy night. Inside the castle, the notorious Dr. Leys was busy working away in his laboratory. Either by serendipitous discovery, maniacal experimentation, or exhaustion brought on by long bouts of feverish fractal rendering -- an Ultra Fractal parameter file fell into the POV-Ray Raytracing program ...and began to grow.

Well, it probably didn't happen like that, but the results are pretty freaky. For those of you unfamiliar with Jos Leys he's a very well known Ultra Fractal artist and is one of the featured artists on the official Ultra Fractal site. I stumbled once again on his website while searching for Droste Effect photos in hopes of finding "something interesting to review even if it's not really a fractal."

I've always liked Jos Leys' shiny and colorful fractal images (are they really "fractals"?). I noticed especially that a write- up of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2006 held in Madrid, Spain (in Europe) featured prominently Jos's image, Indra's Pearls in it's title spread. Jos's work has a very polished professional look which I'm sure appeals to many people -- something which didn't go unnoticed with the writers from El Pais, I suspect.

It would be easy to dismiss work like Jos Leys' as nothing more than eye-candy with it's bright colors and shiny balls, but unlike most examples of eye-candy, Jos' images have a unique style that preserves the wonder of Fractal Art and at the same time presents it in tasteful elegance. The fact that Jos' work is so captivating and yet seems to come from just a very small section of the formula spectrum shows how creative it really is and that it isn't just endless repetitions of a worn-out theme.

You can browse his 3D Ultra Fractal / POV-Ray sculptures in his online gallery; here's a few highlights for those of you who have become so cynical you won't click on a text link until you see a pretty picture first:

(Above) Eerie, elephant-like and surprisingly, monochromatic

(Above) Kill it before it breeds!

(Above) So simple, so colorful, so wonderfully "Jos Leys-ian".

(Above) I like the shadows in this one. Remember, it's ray-traced; even the shadows are drawn by the program and determined by where the user sets the light source.

What else is there to say? There's a beautiful sense of proportion and shape to these images. But of course that comes from the math. Rather than belittle Jos for this, he ought to be given extra marks for not interfering with the natural artistry of the formula.

Something else I'd like to draw your attention to, in case you might miss it, is the wonderful effect of shadows that Jos often seems to be able to harness for a powerful artistic effect. Here's an excellent example from his Kleinian Groups Page 5 gallery:

(Above) Click to view the cool shadows in the full-size image

My final tribute to the greatness of Jos Leys' work is from his Floating Kleinian Groups gallery:

(Above)You've got to have real talent to be able to take one of the cheesiest effects of all time, "Lake Effect", and make it look sublime. I've really come to hate Lake Effect, but for some strange reason it looks great here!

Yes, if Jos can use Lake Effect and it still comes off looking great, then he really does have Super-Powers. And how come there's only one Jos Leys in the Fractal Art world? What have the rest of you Ultra Fractal folks been doing? Eating Kryptonite?

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review of the Week: The 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition

Apparently, I can't run fast enough to get away from this art.

I find art is best contemplated while jogging...

They say you learn something new every day.

Today, I discovered it's not easy to write a review of an exhibition I never actually attended.

Then again, it's impossible to actually attend an exhibition when you don't hear about it until seven months after it has closed.


If OT's readers and Fractaland in general have been waiting for an update about the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibit, well, as the saying goes, you missed it. Don't feel bad. I'm sure you aren't the only one.

I know I was certainly looking forward to seeing it. I missed it, too.

And I even actively tried to keep tabs on it. I regularly scoured the usual fractal art forums, communities, and assorted haunts in hopes of ferreting out any peep about it. What did I find? Nothing. On Fractalus? Zero. Why even the BMFAC 2007 web site remains strangely silent -- about its own much trumpeted exhibition no less! The webmaster was certainly not shy about providing coverage of the 2006 BMFAC exhibition festivities. But news of the BMFAC 2007 exhibition appears to have been buried in a witness protection program. Don't take my word for it. Google it yourself. Try: "benoit mandelbrot fractal art contest exhibition 2007." I already know what you'll find. One relevant entry. Here -- where one paragraph vaguely states that a winning selection by the artist will be displayed in Spain in November. That's it. And that's where I took my only clue to find the MIA exhibition.


I began by checking the Spanish connections to the contest and Googling the BMFAC's listed judges -- especially those who had no work displayed in the exhibition. Doors finally began to open. One judge in particular stood out: Javier Barrallo.

Running a search on him, I found two -- and only two -- articles about the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition. Both articles are written in Spanish, so I had to rely on Google's translation engine for an English transcription. I also pasted text into Babelfish for another translation used for comparison purposes. Quotes that appear in this post are derived from Google, and bracketed inserts from Babelfish are sometimes included for clarification.

The first article, which appeared on, is here. The second article, which appeared on the web site of the university where the exhibition was held, is here. I have linked to English translated versions, although the original Spanish pages can be easily found by either following links at the top of the linked page or by pasting a shortened version of the URL address into your browser window.


And what do we (appear to) learn?

The exhibition was held in Pamplona and displayed in the "lobby of El Sario" at the Public University of Navarre. The exhibition ran from December 21st, 2007, to January 31st, 2008 -- according to this agenda item in the university's calendar.

Both articles bill the event as: International Art Contest Fractal Benoit Mandelbrot 2007. Javier Barrallo (Calonge) is described as "the director of the contest." No mention is made of previously assumed director Damien M. Jones (although this site lists Jones and Barrallo as co-directors) or any of the other BMFAC judges. None of the exhibited artists is mentioned by name either, although the titles of several art works are cited.

Barrallo is a professor of Applied Mathematics at the Public University of Navarre. He appears to be a fairly accomplished academic and has roots in the Ultra Fractal cult community. His work turns up in several "Ultra Fractal Challenge" events hosted by Janet Parke. He has contributed to the UF List Parameters Database. He certainly knows and has ties with Jones -- and even co-authored an article with him. These established connections between the "co-directors" might further explain why the BMFAC's submission requirements are so heavily weighted towards UF -- and also why the selected judges are mostly (totally?) associated with the software as well.

One article notes:

Of the twenty-five works that make up this show, fifteen have been specifically chosen and the rest are guest artists.

"Guest artists." That's one way to put it. The other article describes the non-winning artists as "invited." Neither article mentions the professional faux pas that these "guest artists" also conveniently served as the contest's judges. Nor did the exhibition appear to differentiate the guests from the winners when displaying the art prints. In the photograph above, the only one I could find of the exhibition, one sees (if a black and white photo of an art exhibition can be called "seeing") an image by self-selected "guest" Kerry Mitchell (left) hung beside juried "winner" Susan Chambless (center).

I've said from the start this entire fiasco is set up as a publicity stunt for the judges to exhibit themselves in a seemingly competitive scenario in order to appear juried and thus more prestigious. But, of course, the respectable veneer is a stacked deck from the start. The BMFAC guest-judges are quick to judge others but repeatedly refuse to let others judge them.

I wonder. Can you be a guest at a party you are throwing for yourself?


Here is how Barrallo describes the art in the exhibition:

We try to [give] a representative exposure of what fractal art [is at] this time [and] wanted to have a dozen [ten] artists, expressly invited by [their] capacity in this discipline."

So, indeed, the BMFAC is meant to be a representative sampling of the best contemporary fractal art. Made primarily with Ultra Fractal. With a backstage pass for the Ultra Fractal-loving judges who get a green light to soak up 40% of the wall space. While a remaining heavy ratio of UF selections comprise the rest of the show. Does that sound representative to you? And exactly what constitutes the "capacity in the discipline" of the judges -- other than hanging out near the UF orbit of co-director Jones?

One article notes that the displayed art work was "the computer representation of a single mathematical formula, usually very simple." In the other article, Barrallo observes that the displayed fractals are

like painting by numbers. Here there is no work [done in a] photo editor but answered [strictly by] mathematical formulas, the outcome of those formulas is translated into numbers and those numbers to colors.

Those fractals sure sound pure as the driven pixel. I'm gratified to learn that no post-processing cheating in photo editors was allowed to taint these pristine proceedings. Oh. No. But wait. Hypocrisy alert. Since most of the winning/invited entries were made using Ultra Fractal, wasn't nearly every displayed work masked and layered and pancaked to the edge of their event horizons using the graphic manipulation Photoshop-Lite features built into UF?

Long story short: Those suckers on display were hardly "simple." They're Franken-Fractals -- through and through.


And, hey, all you wannabe BMFACers and OT readers with curious minds that want to know, could this be the reason we've heard zippo so far this year about a (now officially cancelled by Tim) 2008 BMFAC? One article states that the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest is

held every two years.

Really? That's news to me -- especially since the first two contests were held in subsequent years. Of course, since all of us have been living in a virtual BMFAC news blackout, all of the information in the articles is a revelation. Like the similar (and recently disappeared) Fractal Universe Calendar Contest, Jones & Co.'s primary work ethic appears to be grounded in a smothering secrecy. Isn't this our community's big shebang? "Our" International Fractal Art Contest? Wasn't there a deluge of 50+ also-ran honorable mentions in the big BMFAC winnowing nearly a year ago? Therefore, the rarified exhibition selectees should be deemed exemplary and deserve the further recognition an exhibition should ideally provide. In fact, the exhibition should be the apex of the contest -- not a hush-hush throwaway shunted into obscure Google netherworld caches. If nothing else, shouldn't at least the BMFAC site have some record of their own exhibition to provide a further public illustration of the power and grace of the winning entries -- the best-of-the-best sweated over by the BMFAC judges after they first made absolutely certain their own art was grandfathered in "invited"?

Why you'd almost think the BMFAC organizers and judges are ashamed of something.


Did I mention they should be?

Here's a selection of what I wrote to Jones last October when we had a verbal skirmish in the Xenodreamers group. What I said to him then remains just as true today:

If this were nothing more than an invitational exhibit, no one would be asking questions. But this cozy arrangement to showcase friends is masked as a contest that presumably has rigorous integrity. But the contest is an afterthought that occurs only once the judges have made their initial gallery grab. Without the addition of the contest, the judges could not display their work at all -- and certainly not under circumstances that have the appearance of being juried and thus more respectable.


If you want to run a legitimate contest, then pay your judges (even if that means an entry fee) but keep them out of the "winner's circle." And if you want to display your work and the work of your friends, then hold an invitation-only exhibit and be satisfied.

As long as you try to have things both ways, questions of ethical conflicts and unprofessional behavior are going to dog you.

Maybe this fractal art contest can still be saved and receive a much needed professional makeover this year -- or, as seems to be suggested, next year. If not, then its organizers and enablers can expect the howling will once again be heard -- across the expanse of ocean -- as far away as Spain.

UPDATE: Fractalus, the site owned by BMFAC co-director Damien M. Jones and which houses both the 2006 and 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests (see hosting information on both home pages), has apparently blocked sometimes blocks a link in this post where I noted that Jones knows 2007 BMFAC spokesperson Javier Barrallo. The link was to a photograph of Jones and Barrallo standing next to an exhibition poster for the conference where the 2006 BMFAC was exhibited. Jones will probably argue the link was blocked out of bandwidth concerns, but one could also just as easily assume that Jones is unwilling to allow OT's readers to see concrete proof of his association with Barrallo. The photograph can now also be viewed here. Jones is on the left and Barrallo is on the right.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2008 Cancelled

How could this have happened?

I really thought this was going to become a regular part of the Fractal Art world, but I guess that was too much to hope for.

What could have gone wrong this year? How did this happen?

Let me count the ways...

Artistically Anemic: I guess when you make the submission requirements sound like the feature set for Ultra Fractal you're bound to get only one kind of artwork.

One-Dimensional: (No pun intended) Making everything exactly the same size was pretty stupid; how many artists make everything the same size? It this a fractal brick exhibition?

Enough Judges to Fill a Bus: And they all get a reserved spot in the exhibition because of their hard, hard work. "Many hands make light work" -- not in a fractal art contest apparently! It's just an excuse to take a free ride on the sponsor's money while everyone else has to jump through a bunch of hoops just to be seen by the "judges".

Amateur Attempt at Judging: Who exactly are these judges? All I saw was a guy and a bunch of his friends. Why not add a few judges who have a different view of fractal art? Or how about getting a real art judge who's unconnected to the fractal world and can handle the very hard, hard work of sifting through the several hundred submissions that any contest (or high school art course) will produce? It ought to be easy for someone familiar with approaching art from a critical point of view. Let the busload of amateur judges line up with everyone else to get judged instead of lording it over their fellow artists.

The Devil Sponsors Made Us Do It That's all I can remember hearing when the organizers attempted to explain the odd-ball setup for the contest -- both years in a row. Yeesh. Show some leadership and maturity and just admit you made mistakes and make the necessary changes. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest can be saved! It just needs an attitude that won't sell out to sponsors or the private ambitions of a small clique of artists and self acclaimed experts.

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009?

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fractal Printmaking

Hey fans. Welcome back to the award-winning Image of the Week series here on Orbit Trap -- your one stop clearinghouse for all things fractal.

Today's King for a Week is none other than the famous Mr. Velocipede, an artist of many mediums and styles of which Fractal Art is just one of them as you can see on his Flickr Photostream.

What caught my eye was his printmaking series where he has done some preliminary and experimental work printing fractals on an old-fashioned mechanical printing press.

Monoprint Background 2, by Mr. Velocipede, 2007

The printing medium, especially this sort of vintage method, really adds some style to what is normally a digital and squeaky clean process. Printmaking (and silkscreening too) never fail to capture my interest and when browsing photoshop filters I often look for ones that simulate the style of those mediums.

Mr. Velocipede has even attempted some new sort of printmaking thing, which I'm still not sure I understand, that involves laser toner and has a really wonderful gritty look to it. He explains a bit about it on his blog in this posting.

Paper Lithography #4, by Mr. Velocipede, 2008

Paper Lithography #1, by Mr. Velocipede, 2008

Paper Lithography #3, by Mr. Velocipede, 2008

Paper Lithography #2, by Mr. Velocipede, 2008

It was a relief to see that Mr. Velocipede's Flickr site wasn't inundated with the usual flood of self-serving and moronic comments. I took a screenshot of this one (below) because I thought it really summed up what makes Mr. Velocipede's fractal prints interesting to me also. It's a comment on the image, Paper Lithography #2, just above.

There's a lot of other exciting things to check out there; some fractal and some not:
Bifurcus Speculorum
Gumball machine oracle
St. Francis of Assisi Kitty Litter Cathedral

All of the images of Mr. Velocipede's here are covered by a Creative Commons license found here. The smart choice for internet-savvy artists.

Well there you have it. Join us again next week for Image of the Week here on Orbit Trap where we praise the positive and play football with the negative -- either way it's always a touch-down for our ever-faithful readers!

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Friday, August 08, 2008

My Art is Red Hot, You're Art Ain't Diddley-Squat!

Bloody Sunset

In the year, 2008, Fractal Art is boring.

It wasn't always like that. There was a time when Fractal Art was exciting. But that was just because it was new.

Now the excitement is found only in a few enclaves high in the mountains; hard to reach, remote, inaccessible places. From my mountain retreat, far above the smog-filled haze of the valleys, I reflect on a few things...

Just because your fractal program won't let you do it, doesn't mean you have to stop there.

Stop listening to your online "art" friends. They're boring. And so will you be soon. Listen to that inner voice. The one that says, "There must be something better."

If you want to find something new, you've got to stop hanging around the old places. In the words of Long John Silver, "You'll only find dirt, diggin' where others have dug".

Bad art isn't instinctive -- it's taught. Creativity however, is instinctive. Creativity is the exploration of new places and the wandering away from familiar territory. Even a cow will do this.

The next big fractal art contest will give awards to itself and the artists who produce the best portraits of it. Everything will be reworked versions of ten year old ideas. Winning prizes is a good sign you're becoming boring.

Serious artists get bored easily, are always looking for new styles and ideas, and usually head off in directions they're not supposed to.

Fractal art has become standardized but this appeals to those who want to compare themselves to each other and get prizes. If you want those prizes, you'd better stay in line.

In the smog-filled valleys you can't even see the mountains. But from the mountains you can easily see the smog filled valleys.

Ultra Fractal has achieved the goal of actually making fractal art more difficult while at the same time convincing it's users that this is better and is an improvement over those older programs. If this perspective was applied elsewhere, comic books would be written in Greek and Latin and come in scrolls.

Let me put it into layman's terms: Fractal Art is a horse that should be shot, made into dog food and fed to a pack of wild Siberian Huskies who will be much better able to carry on its mission of racing tirelessly across moonlit frozen lakes.

The enlarged heads, low intelligence and common facial features of most fractal artwork reveals the inbred nature of the genre and the widely prevailing social stigma surrounding intermarriage with other graphics programs.

If you think Ultra Fractal is the apex of Fractal Art, then you've been climbing the wrong mountain.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

And 6 More Reviews Using 6 Words

A Bride's Night by FarDareisMai

A Bride's Night
by FarDareisMai

No more Starbucks for flower girls.

Fractal Image 2766 by Jock Cooper

Fractal Image 2766
by Jock Cooper

Well built. Dual core. Intel Inside.

The Sun is Playing by Elizabeth Mansco

The Sun is Playing
by Elizabeth Mansco

Heat index blues? Hit the beach.

the lair by smithgiant

the lair
by smithgiant

Hello? Tree surgeon? I have a problem.

Mediterranean Lands by Fernanda Steele

Mediterranean Lands
by Fernanda Steele

Google Earth? Give me math mapping!

Broccoli by God

by God

Not layered in UF. Still good.


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