A.J. Bartoletti has a passion for Islamic architecture and is an expert in sacred geometry. Based in Wilkes-Barre, Pa USA he has a passion for learning this traditional artform.
We talk to A.J about his journey to discovering Islamic geometry, creative process and commitment to continuing his quest for knowledge.
Your works are inspired by Islamic geometry. What made you develop an interest in this artistic tradition?
I would have to say that Islamic Architecture is what first drew my interest onto this side of the art form. I believe it is one of man’s greatest accomplishments as it shows our true potential to create beauty through a divine connection. The proportions, symmetry, and harmony within the patterns, designs, and structures are absolutely breathtaking. To my eyes it is music frozen in time.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
I am self trained and still very much consider myself a student of these traditions. My training is very hands on, learning via trail and error, but I also spend a good amount of time researching and studying geometry and art.
The first Islamic geometry book I studied was Eric Broug’s Islamic Geometric Design. His book provided me with an overview of the history of Islamic Design throughout the centuries and artistically introduced me to analyzing pattern constructions and grids.
As with most training I progressed by building upon the knowledge I acquired through hours of study and practice. Meditating on patterns and forms is also a big part of my process as some pieces have taken me hours of contemplation before placing my pen on a page.
I am currently studying from the book Arabic Geometrical Pattern and Design by J. Bourgion. This book contains nearly 200 pages of patterns underlying the geometrical art of the Arabs. It’s currently one of my favorite books to study.
Has your cultural heritage influenced your creative practice?
No, at least not that I am aware of. I was born in the US and although some of my Italian heritages and traditions have passed down they have not had a conscious influence on me as an artist.
Sacred geometry is a theme within your work, can you share more about your approach and inspiration?
Sacred Geometry came to me in the fall of 2019 when I developed a curiosity for ancient and alchemical symbols and began researching books on the subject. One of the books contained diagrams of Metatron’s Cube and the Flower of Life; I instantly resonated with them and that’s when I began to draw Geometry.
I also think a lot had to do with were I was at in my life at that time. There’s something about drawing Geometry that is very therapeutic for me, and drawing it helped me through some difficult times. People differentiate Sacred Geometry from “mundane” Geometry, but to me its all the same, it all comes from the same place. Geometry is all around us, I can’t even close my eyes without seeing it. So to me its all “Sacred” and drawing it by hand is a powerful and mediative tool to use to expand awareness, calm the mind and fill the soul. I approach it with a focused mind a patient hand and an open heart.
Your work has a contemporary aesthetic, how did you create this style?
My style and progression evolved very naturally. I started out with pencil on white paper and focused on constructing grids, patterns, polygons and polyhedra using strictly straight edge and compass. From there I switched to a black background and used whatever materials I could get my hands on (color pencils, metallic markers, gels pens). Shortly after this, in the summer of 2020, I was commissioned to draw my art on table tops for a local restaurant; that’s when I discovered acrylic paint pens. I started incorporating paint pens onto the black paper and this is when my art developed a more contemporary ascetic.
In the fall of 2020 I found a mentor, Rafael Araujo. Rafael is an architect and illustrator, he’s been creating art professionally for over 30yrs. Him and I met through a social media group and he was kind enough to share his knowledge with me. I spent the next several months drawing and drafting 8+ hours a day, I hardly slept. It got to a point where I wanted more precision from my tools and that’s when a good friend of mine (Chris Wedemire) introduced me to technical pens filled with white ink. I’ve been using them heavily ever since.
I’m currently at the point where I’m contemplating where to take my art next. I have a few ideas in mind but haven’t manifested them yet. I think it’s only a matter of time.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
It’s really hard for me to define one highlight. All of it is a bright light in my life. Everything from doing my art for restaurants, putting on art shows, painting a mural, designing logos and clothing, connecting with people around the globe, learning and growing. I really feel blessed that opportunities keep presenting themselves to me and so many people enjoy what I put my heart into.
Your works are incredibly detailed, how long does it take for you to create a piece?
It depends on the piece. Some pieces may only take a few hours to draw but will take days for me to study and calculate. Most of the stuff I draw is premeditated and demands a strict plan and an organized way of working so I can hold control and navigate all the lines and points on the page. There’s also the possibility of making an error which happens and requires me to restart a drawing. Nothing I draw is quick, because I can’t rush it. Offhand I would say most of my drawings take around 8 hrs, but some have taken much longer. Time is funny when you get into a zone; I lose track of it often while drawing.
Which artists do you admire?
I get inspiration from a lot of different artists both inside and outside of the realm of geometric art. Rafael Araujo is one of the artists I admire the most when talking geometry. Befriending him is something I am very grateful for.
Andy Gilmore is another geometric artist that I admired before I even started drawing. Although his work is mostly digital, it inspired me early on.
Daniel Martin Diaz is another whose work I really admire and find inspiration in. I always look forward to seeing what he does next.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
Great question. I feel there’s an electricity happening within this art form so I think we are seeing somewhat of a resurgence and remembrance in the nature of the art itself. I really think it’s important to stay true to old traditions while also pushing boundaries into new terrain. Utilizing the resources and influences that are available to us today while paying respect to the masters of old is really where my head is at, and that’s where I’m trying to take it. And as long as we continue to keep these traditions going, they will never die. Creating and inspiring is what will continue to fuel the fire and elevate the art form.
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