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Review: James Flynn’s Quantum Nous at Callan Contemporary 

Quantum physics visualized as psychedelic art

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What does the Mississippi River have to do with quantum physics? That is a deep question. Neither is easy to fathom, but the easy answer has to be James Flynn. A former river pilot-turned-painter, Flynn's years spent deciphering the Big Muddy's inscrutable currents probably made it easier for him to relate to the physicists who spent decades investigating the elusive patterns of protons and particles on which quantum theory was based. In his paintings, the vortexes at the heart of quantum physics are dramatically represented in complex canvases that build on the 20th-century Op art legacies of Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley, while hinting at the peculiar visual parallels that quantum physics shares with the mind bending visual puzzles and black-light posters of the psychedelic 1960s. In fact, graphical representations of the elusive Higgs boson particle that validated quantum theory at the Hadron particle collider in 2012 can look weirdly like the psychedelic patterns popular with the LSD generation as we see in Flynn's Eigenstate V Ultraviolet (pictured). Albert Einstein's quantum breakthrough occurred when he discovered that electromagnetic waves also could resemble particles, and Flynn's vividly luminous Pierrot and Harlequin at the Pareidolic Masked Ball celebrates that playful shape-shifting quality by relating it to the popular clown characters featured in the comical masked theater performances of 17th-century Europe. But the cultural history of shape shifting really dates back thousands of years to the esoteric Asian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism in which deities, like those of the classical Greeks, could assume various guises even while representing aspects of ancient wisdom — a sensibility embodied in the undulating interwoven geometry of Flynn's Heart Sutra — Form is Void and Void is Form. If that sounds confusing, it is really not all that different from the versatile digital technologies we take for granted every time we pick up a smartphone. Flynn just illustrates, brilliantly and vividly, the reasons why nothing ever is entirely what it seems.

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