Brown Arts

Spencer Finch | The Garden in the Brain (2017)

Spencer Finch The Garden in the Brain, 2017
Photo by Warren Jagger

Spencer Finch

The Garden in the Brain, 2017

  • Tessellations in plywood paneling, fretted glass, ceramic tile, wood and porcelain flooring, and concrete pavers. 9 sites throughout the building
  • Installed in the Engineering Research Center

View map of installations throughout the building

Spencer Finch’s work is often described as having a poetic sensibility. He is known for his unrelenting attempts to capture the inexplicable and the ephemeral, as well as a fascination with poets like Emily Dickenson and Henry David Thoreau. His whimsical installations exploring light and color derive inspiration from natural phenomena as minute as the shifting hues of light in a hotel room and as grand as the sunset over Puget Sound. In the artist’s words, “you take a tiny world, which is in your backyard, and you explode it into the universal.” [1] This philosophy has lead Finch to render specific smells, tastes, sounds, poems, sensations, and colors of light in mediums ranging from watercolor to glass panels to soft-serve ice-cream.

In his public art installation at Brown University’s Engineering Research Center, Finch embedded nine artworks into the very structure of the building. Drawing inspiration from a wide range of tiling—from the tessellations of Alhambra to a mislaid tile in the bathroom of his parent’s home—Finch plotted a new direction in his work. Using common construction materials like fretted glass, ceramic tile, wood flooring, plywood panels, and concrete pavers, he fills the architecture with tessellation patterns that purposely range from striking to subtle. He envisions a moment when an engineering student, having lived with the work for a period of time, recognizes one of the subtle installations and the mathematics underlying it!

The largest and most visible of Finch’s interventions is the grid of dyed and etched plywood panels installed in the hallway of the lower entrance. Visible from outside the building as well as within, the panels exhibit a sophisticated use of color that is characteristic of the artist’s work. As designed by the architects of Kieran Timberlake, a glass wall separating the Hazeltine Commons from the Teaching Lab was fretted with a commercially manufactured dot pattern (to provide a degree of privacy). Finch’s more intricate, custom design repeats three patterns across the band of windows and creates a unique focal point within the Commons. Other tessellations include hand-made tiles in or outside of the restrooms, porcelain and wood flooring, and concrete pavers outside the main entrance.

Spencer Finch


The Garden in the Brain

[1] King, Carol, “The Mechanics of Perception: Spencer Finch’s Mastery of Simple Forms to Convey Complex Ideals Arrives at Marfa Contemporary,” Artdesk Magazine, 2014-2015,