“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key…” Although these words were formulated in 1939 by Winston Churchill to characterize Russia’s unpredictability, they just as aptly describe the spirit of Brian Dailey’s current Riddles series and the helical journeys on which they embark. Leveraging his past experiences in intelligence systems and programs (focusing, ironically, on Russia), the artist composed poetic riddles embedded with symbolism and multifaceted meanings. He then “wrapped” them in ciphers that serve both as an art form and as the key to unraveling the conundrum he has constructed. The spiral constellations into which these multi-colored ciphers have been positioned create captivating abstract compositions inviting the viewer to decode the complex riddles underlying the seemingly simple forms. Visually mesmerizing and conceptually engaging, the cascading spirals of ciphers and the encoded riddles evoke the circuitous paths of global modernities and the tension between teleology and cyclicality.
Dailey’s original riddles at the core of this project—elaborate constructs of alliterative three-sentence verses modeled on the Haiku structure and informed by Shakespearean poetry and mythology—draw on a long tradition of employing the riddle form to refer obliquely to complex subjects. With a combination of erudition and imagination, Dailey invokes Greek gods to remind us of the dualistic nature of political and social discourse that has sustained Western humanity since antiquity but remains elusive today. The underlying poetic and triadic structures underscore the dualities at play and reflect the artist’s interest in numerology, conveying the subtlety and intricacy of the project. Tripartide symbolism is a recurring element embedded in Dailey’s work, making reference to various creative forms that have greatly inspired him, such as Dante’s Comedies. When decrypted, the riddle poems reveal the artist’s insights about contemporary social and political issues gleaned though his experiences.
The enigmatic forms in which these riddles are wrapped were created through an encryption model of Dailey’s own design adapted from the common pigpen cipher system. Translating his verbal riddles into visual form, the artist modified this simple geometric substitution cipher to construct his own five-color encryption pattern. The red, green, blue, yellow and black shapes form a pastiche of Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg’s painting style, employing the horizontal and vertical lines characteristic of the De Stijl artist’s work. Dailey also pays homage to the Dutch artist’s inventive use of diagonals as the dynamic aspect of space and time, further complicating this element with the spatiotemporal coordinates of the coiling ciphers that defy linear interpretations. Encased in a quadrangular frame, the elusive spirals draw the viewer into the intriguing and elusive enigmas, challenging us to find the key to unlocking the puzzles with which we have been presented.