George Widener (b. 1962) has always been able to calculate numbers and patterns far beyond the capacity of an ordinary person. Diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and recognized as a numerical savant, he keeps a series of notebooks in which he records meaningful dates, numbers and historical events. Dates are particularly important to the artist, who notes that they “are not a single static item that people perceive them as, they're part of a vast interconnected network. The dates of the last century have a dynamic connection to the dates of today as well as the future” (all quotes via personal communication from Widener, 19 November 2015).
Much of Widener’s oeuvre has grappled with the sinking of the Titanic. After discovering that the Philadelphia businessman and arts patron George Widener went down with the ship, and because his fiftieth birthday fell on the year of the hundredth anniversary of the tragedy, Widener feels personally connected with the vessel. He also sees associations between current events and the ship’s fate. “The [sinking of the] Titanic was an unbelievable thing that shocked people. As with a lot of the tragic things going on today, it's pertinent to ask ourselves what's being lost. The events at Palmyra, destroying the 2,000-year-old Roman architecture, not only has impact when it is reported on Monday October 5, 2015, but also on October 5, 2567, which also happens to be a Monday.” Titanic (1912-1947) pays homage to the idea of memory and what might have been. In the work, Widener is “talking about the dates that never were, the loss of the people.”
The artist considers his oeuvre to be less about his intricate and often ethereal mark-making than about the specific mathematical themes he addresses. He creates works as much for the theoretical beauty of their numerical patterns as for their visual appeal. Widener believes that his pieces are in conversation with On Kawara’s (1933-2014) conceptual work with dates “albeit in a whimsical Asperger’s fashion.” While he undoubtedly began his career as an Outsider artist, Widener has become conversant in art world concerns and his work seems to occupy a liminal space between “insider” and “outsider” creation.