Fractals in Fine Art

What are fractals? Fractals are never ending self-similar patterns that are found in geometric shapes and in nature like in trees, rivers, mountains, cloud formations, seashells etc. After our lecture, I was dazed by the beauty of fractals and wanted to find examples of fractals being used in modern art.

Dali 2

In the painting above titled Visage of War (1940) by Salvador Dali, we can clearly see the use of fractals within the eyes and mouth of the floating human head, and we see the same pattern repeating over and over within the smaller heads inside the mouth and eyes of the biggest head. Painted with the thought of the Spanish Civil War, this painting is described as having “eyes filled with infinite death”.

Dali 1

In the image above (left) we see a sketch Dali made in preparation for the final painting. He originally only used this fractal pattern within the mouth of the large head, but later chose to have it endlessly repeating three times in the final painting. I believe this was a smart choice by Dali because it makes the message of endless war more pronounced and powerful. In addition, it also gives the feeling of a never ending hypnosis full of death and darkness to the viewer.

Hokusai, Fuji at Sea

In this wood block print by Katsushika Hokusai titled Fuji at Sea, we see the use of fractals at the tips of the large god-like waves that change into birds and fly away towards Mount Fuji in the distance. Hokusai brilliantly depicts fractals in nature.

Hokusai, Fuji in a Thunderstorm

In this woodblock print by Hokusai titled Fuji in a Thunderstorm, we see a shape similar to a filled-in Julia set on the right panel of the print. An example of a filled-in Julia set can be seen below.

Filled-in Julia set

Probably the most famous woodblock print by Hokusai is The Great Wave off Kanagawa seen below. Again, we see the stunning use of fractals in nature at the tips of the great waves. Hokusai’s use of flat color and careful observations of nature create beautiful masterpieces of art.


– Alice Musher


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