Paint by Numbers

Professor Fredrick Kuhn finds the hidden math in famous art

Painter Edward Hopper, known for his shadowy, realist take on American life, consistently dismissed the idea that there was any hidden meaning or metaphor in his work. But industrial design professor Fredrick Kuhn says that Hopper’s work is, in fact, filled with numeric symbolism. As part of a faculty lecture series this spring, Kuhn laid out the evidence for his theory, pointing to examples in Hopper’s work where the painter appears to employ the Fibonacci sequence—a string of numbers where the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.). The Fibonacci, often called “nature’s numbering system,” can be found in everything from the number of petals or leaves on most plants to the arrangement of the rings in seashells. Kuhn says these numerical references not only organize Hopper’s work, but also add another, deeper level of meaning. Below, a look at how Kuhn sees the Fibonacci numbers at work in Hopper’s 1940 painting Gas. —DAN MORRELL


1 : The man, the sign, the steeple, the single oil can on the bottom row of cans

2 : The two rows of brown and green grasses and the two matching gas pumps

3 : The three gas pumps, the three rows of cans, the three cans in the top two rows, the three light shafts coming from the door and window of the building

5 : The five rows of the field

8 : The eight letters in the “Mobilgas” sign


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