Sara Kirschenbaum
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My Dad

Posted Thursday, Sep 08th, 2011 at 6:49pm

My mom, Susan Weil, asked me to write an introduction to a small-edition book she is making of my dad's random drawings.

Here is a draft of the essay:

My father, Bernard Kirschenbaum, grew up in the Bronx in the nineteen twenties and thirties. As a young man he often walked to the expansive Bronx Botanical Garden, which at that time was unbound by any fences. Even though he was a city-boy, he grew to be a quite capable nature walker and would catch dozens of animals which he would try to sell to companies that supplied scientific laboratories. He also spent many summers in upstate New York. I think that it was in the natural environment that he learned to appreciate the exquisite beauty of randomness that is richly evident on any forest floor, meadow, or beach.

Bernie was the President of his high school science club and went on to study horticulture at Cornell University where he learned to identify plant species by the subtlest of shapes and textures (one teacher even cut and changed the outline of leaves to foil his students!). His interests at school shifted to theatre, with a focus on set design and lighting, and finally to architecture. When he was almost done with his horticulture degree, he left Cornell to study Bauhaus aesthetics at the Chicago Institute of Design. As I grew up, I watched his love of geometry guide his attention one more step, from architecure to sculpture. A show of model domes at Park Place Gallery in 1966 was a bridge between the two. Since then, sculpture has been his forte. Bernie's art is a celebration of the purest elemental geometry, including triangles, diamonds, circles, squares, elipses, and catanery curves, in two and three dimensions. Bernie also appreciates the roughness of a natural surface. Many of his pieces have the powdery red-brown patinas of rusted steel, the crystaline sheen of galvanized metal, or the grain of polished cherrywood. I remember as a child, seeing him struggle mightily to get the even randomness just right in these organic surfaces. The variations could not be too uniform or too idiosyncratic.

My parents married after my mom, Susan Weil, hired Bernie to design her a geodesic dome studio in the woods of Stony Creek, Connecticut. The construction of the dome, built in the middle of a hexagon-shaped acre of land, paralleled my childhood. I remember my dad wanted the floor of the dome to be a seamless even surface. He found a flooring system where pigment chips could be embedded in a clear, urethane plastic. He made sample after sample trying to get the spread of chips even. Curiously, that scattered randomness could be found all around the dome, on the ground of the forest, with nature's casting-off of leaves, pine needles, rocks and ephemeral plants. Meanwhile, Bernie tried to perfect the sprinkling of pigment chips into the urethane. He went on to use this same surface system with a sculpture that had red and blue pigment chips. Some sides were all red, some all blue, and some had both colors mixed in even porportions. Again, he made more samples. The finished piece had a perfect balance of red and blue dashed together, as only gravity can do.

You can't fake or arrange randomness. The more deliberate the effort, the more stilted the result. Ironically there is a precision to authentic haphazardness.

Bernie was an early adopter of computer technology. He went to computer shows when most people had not heard of computer technology (I enjoyed the swag that he brought home from these shows - switches, circuit boards, rough digitized images made of different typed letters and symbols). He was soon writing code for the earliest computer systems. He designed programs to help him draw geometric patterns and constructions - a dramatic advancement from the days when he had drafted complex geodesic designs with a pencil, straight-edge, logarythmic rulers, and hundreds of minute calculations. In the mid-nineties he developed a new kind of drawing program - one that would automatically randomize the placement, size, and sidedness, of shapes. With his new program, he could control the variables, deciding what would be randomized. One of his programs drew different size elipses, another drew polygons. He played with the parameters: the number of sides of each polygon, their size and orientation, their placement on the page, and the distance from the edge (he never allowed the shapes to be cut off at the edge).

Bernie had a show of these drawings, cut out of different color plexiglass, in the Galerie Nordenhake in Stockholm, Sweden in 1996. That same year he contributed a random drawing to a beautiful limited edition of Divan E Shams by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī published by Vincent Fitzgerald.

This collection of drawings, published in my father's eighty-eigth year, are a celebration of his love affair with simplicity, precision and perfect thoughtless scatter.

Here is a link to two of these drawings:

random1

random2

Please excuse typos - I am at my parent's house and they do not have any formal word processing programs.

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