David Winslow Brisson was an artist whose work dealt with the visualization of mathematical structures, particularly four-dimensional geometry. He grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and received a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1953, and an MFA from Ohio University in 1955. He also studied with Hans Hofmann in Provencetown MA, in the summer of 1956. He taught at University of Rhode Island, the Kansas City Art Institute and Auburn University before becoming an Associate Professor at Rhode Island School of Design in 1965. It was at RISD that he began his visual explorations of multi-dimensional space.
I met David Brisson in January 1978, as a RISD student in his course called “Visualizing the Fourth Dimension.” Here I was, a fresh-faced kid thinking I had nothing to lose taking an 8-week session between semesters from a mysterious and gentle man who may have been stored at RISD for decades, along with the rest of the fossils and plant specimens in the Edna W. Lawrence Natural History Collection where the class was taught. Mr. Brisson introduced himself and wasted no time in explaining that his lessons were based on geometric rules and had nothing to do with the notion of time as a fourth dimension.
While I sat gazing in the background at a magnificently preserved Great horned owl with feathers splayed out between a brilliant amethyst gem and human skull, I remember Brisson mentioning Nicholas Saunderson, a blind mathematician during the late 17th century, and it all became very clear to me. While the number of dimensions would always be infinite, it was the organization of the system that gave it being. For a blind mathematician it was just one of many endless perfect realities, no different from the three dimensional cartesian coordinates we exist in every day.
I took off with it. Four dimensional cubes? No problem. How about five dimensional? No issues at all. In very short time I was drawing truncated four dimensional icosahedra and it was only because there was an understanding of the system involved that it was so effortless. Between assignments I was free to explore the enormous dimensional realms that unfolded, each with a unique pattern that could be applied everywhere. I felt as though I had been given an answer to what the space was about.
Almost 40 years later I still have that feeling, and I can still remember the Great Blizzard of 1978 during the beginning of February that ended the school schedule for the winter. The entire city was incapacitated, with all roads filled by stranded vehicles. Before the class was ended for good, I had the chance to view a number of Brisson’s hyperstereograms, which are 4-dimensional interpretations of space using the cross eye 3D stereo effect, known as the hyper horopteral space.
A large part of my future thinking was influenced by David Brisson, and the visualization of multiple dimensions embodies an organizational schemata that can carry over into many fields of endeavor including botany, economics, social sciences and government. To be able to think beyond the constraints of our traditional 3D world is a gift available to everyone, and it can enhance observational and analytical skills in fantastic ways.