Tuesday, 5:56pm
28 July 2009

Phil Wolstenholme’s fractal visions

From china tea sets to hyper-real South Yorkshire landscapes

Blank Screen Syndrome, writes David Thompson, is an exhibition/retrospective of work by Phil Wolstenholme, whose computer-generated images and animations have been used by, among others, Warp Records, Gavin Bryars and The Designers Republic (See Reputations, Eye 71). Of these early album sleeves and promotional images, Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations are perhaps the most familiar.

As well as revisiting work from the past twenty years, the exhibit hosts more recent material, including Wolstenholme’s photography project, ‘Wide Area Network’ (above), in which Sheffield’s nearby countryside is writ large in a series of enormous hyper-real prints. It’s obvious at first sight that something about these images is unusual and counterintuitive, though it took me a moment to figure out exactly what. Despite the depth of field and panoramic view, every detail in each shot is perfectly in focus. (Each image is a digital composite of multiple shots, stitched together seamlessly using the PTAssembler.)


However, the most memorable work is found in the array of large fractal images, rendered using Frederik Slijkerman’s Ultra Fractal software. Combining op-art effects with sinewy, organic forms, Wolstenholme has hit on a visual theme that’s both striking at a distance and absorbing in its detail. It’s also a remarkably versatile aesthetic, and the exhibition includes two-dimensional prototypes of commercial applications, including fractal wellington boots, fractal umbrellas and – my favourite – a fractal china tea set. As if to underline this versatility, Wolstenholme has launched a fabric design company, Heavy Everywhere, and early fashion and swimwear designs have been featured at the Mode-City Paris Expo and on the catwalks of Milan. Dapper types and silk fetishists should brace themselves for the prospect of psychedelic fractal couture.


The breadth of material on show may puzzle those expecting a single theme or some overarching theory on which to hang an opinion (or indeed a review). But at a time when so much visual art relies for validation on mission statements and other textual baggage, it’s pleasing to find work that displays confidence in versatility and pure visual pleasure.

Blank Screen Syndrome.
The Workstation, Sheffield.
July 23rd - August 17th 2009.
T: +44 (0) 114 279 6511.

Review by David Thompson

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.