My main inspirations have been the rich patterning of Islamic design and an interest in sacred geometry. The Muslims started with one of the ten commandments, "Thou shalt not make any graven images". By reasoning that all creation is a reflection of God, they extended their interpretation of that prohibition to include any kind of representational artwork. The complexity of design they have achieved within those limitations in 1300 years of art has always amazed me, both by how different it is from Western art, and at how incredibly sophisticated it is.
My father was born in Morocco, and we visited my grandparents in Casablanca many times. Some of my earliest memories are of being captivated by the play of water and light over brightly colored Zalij fountains. Years later, returning again as a young man in art school, I felt a strong pull towards traditional designs and the mystery and contemplation of the infinite they inspire. In Marrakesh in 1991, while winding my way through a labyrinthine souk, I came across a man making brass platters in a tiny little shop. I was fascinated by his designs and asked him how he made them. He was kind enough to give me a demonstration. Taking a flat sheet of metal he first drew a single circle, and then divided it into six equal sections simply by setting his compass to the radius of the circle and then marking the divisions around the circumference. From there he drew lines between some of the points, and then again crossing into the center. In no time at all a complex interwoven pattern began to appear. He told me that all of his patterns were stored in his head. Many of them he had learned from his father, others sprang out as he played with the lines. I watched him in awe, but also had an inkling that this was something that perhaps I too could learn to do. I bought some paper and crayons at a small stationeer, and everywhere I went I took rubbings of the tiles. Some of my favorite patterns were found in local bars and one was even found in the men's room of the Alcazar in Sevilla. When I came back to the states, I carved some of the tracings in clay and began putting them on vases. Seeking to unravel the magic of the circle, I found books on Islamic art and began to study sacred geometry. I went back to my tracings and analyzed the lines, taking measurements with the compass and discovering how the patterns had been created. I also started studying the work of the Maallems (Arabic for Master Craftsman) and began to design my own patterns.
My father's family had been in Morocco for the past seventeen generations, ever since the Edict of Expulsion in 1492 -a bad year in worlds old and new. Prior to that date, Sephardic Jews had enjoyed a certain status under most of the Islamic dynasties in Spain. By paying a special tax known as Dhimmi, Jews had the right to live and practice their religion freely, and sometimes even gained certain privileges. In comparison with the rest of Europe, Andalusia had been a Medieval paradise. Under the Ummayid dynasty, from the eighth to the eleventh centuries, Jews were welcome in many walks of life; they formed a large part of the administrative intelligentsia and many were even quite influential at court. Jewish architects, craftsmen and artists worked within the Islamic vernacular, and contributed to the creation of many of the great palaces. They made magnificent illuminated Torahs, much in the style of the beautiful Korans then and still produced throughout the Islamic world. I like to think that some of my ancestors might have been involved in architecture and design. Perhaps they worked with the same motifs which are an endless source of fascination to me a full millenium later. While the media never tires of portraying the difficulties in Arab and Jewish relations, the reality is that there are many caring intelligent people on both sides of the divide who want peace and understanding. In our current political climate all Moslems tend to be demonized and portrayed as religious fanatics. By showing another side of Islamic culture I hope my work can help to fight against such narrow stereotypical visions and argue artistically for a broader spirit of Semitic unity.