Self-Organizing Composition - Modiano's abstracts reflect his biologist background
Kate McGraw is an independent journalist and frequent arts contributor to the Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Journal North.

Many artists talk about the process of their work, and many describe the process as more important than the result. Jim Modiano is surely one of few who describe creating a painting (or sometimes a mixed-media collage) in terms of seeking randomization or the nature of self-organizing organisms. But then not many artists trained and worked as a developmental biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. He left the lab in disappointment about 17 years ago, when biological research turned away from integrated theory and went "completely molecular," Modiano told the Journal.


He's been making art since then. He has developed from a painter of expressionistic landscapes to the abstract artist he is today. A relative newcomer to the Santa Fe art scene, Modiano is opening his first local show Thursday, Dec. 3 — eight large paintings in the atrium at the Southside Library on Jaguar Drive. "Puzzling Creation" will be up through Dec. 29.


A Rubric for the Work
"The title is basically a rubric that overarches all the work I do," Modiano said. He
works from a theory of self-organizing life, he added. "People say to me, 'All that education and you don't use it.' But I do use it; I use it every day. My whole vision is a transferring the empirical science to empirical studio work. When a person is fortunate enough to see a secret of nature — that it is basically self-organizing — that just gives me a lot of confidence in what I am doing.


"My primary motivation is the sanctity of life and our responsibility to safeguard the environment that supports it," Modiano explained further. "Ecology teaches us that the biosphere is a vast web of interrelationships functioning across many scales and levels of organization," Modiano continued. "What is intriguing and of profound significance is that nature's networks form solely on the basis of the individuals' propensity to interact. They are self-organizing."


What he strives for, Modiano added, is paintings that are essentially self-organizing to the viewers' eyes and psyches. "There is no fixed orientation to the work, no preferential viewing point," he said of his composed abstracts. "As you view it over time, what is important changes."


Although he has taken art classes, Modiano said he is basically self-taught. "I'm using the skills I have to make pieces that are imbued with ambiguity. My paintings change all the time," he said. "They change with the daylight; they change with mood."


'Tossing' Works
Modiano works in several different media, from straight painting to a method he calls "tossing." Creating art that organizes itself from random images, color values and shapes appeals to the scientist in him. For his "tossing pieces," he creates shapes and tosses them at a prepared substrate — generally canvas or board — until images occur. Maybe one in 50 tossings makes a painting/collage, he said. When that happens, he glues the tossed pieces down.

"It's very satisfying. It takes me out of it to some extent," Modiano said. "It's a method I develop to try and get at randomization. But I am not naïve. I am choosing the shapes and scaling them. I know that."

A New Studio
Modiano and his wife moved to Santa Fe nearly three years ago after a systematic
search for a different place to live than northern California. "It's same old story. We came here and fell in love with the energy, the dynamic light and the culture," he said. After some time spent "developing a slew of textile designs for financial stability," Modiano built a studio next to their home and is beginning to work on his fine art pieces again. Currently he working on a monumental, multiple-panel piece based on a geometric array. "It will form a cohesive composition on its own," he said confidently.

reprinted from The Albuquerque Journal North, Venue Gallery Guide, November 27, 2009.
© copyright 2017, Jim Modiano