But we had a nice opening last night. Many friends came showing their appreciation and support. Thanks to all.
In my next post I hope to give a more complete account about the experience of creating these works over the past 3 months.
Lets just say for now that I came to realize I bit off far more than I could chew, though I did this deliberately–as a sort of audacious challenge to myself.
There always looms the possibility that the painting was better left at an earlier stage, or that the work may not bear the test of time. At times I wondered if a painting might be veering perilously close to maudlin tripe, or the whole concept totally misguided.
But I really don’t worry about it. It’s best to have the courage to make a clear statement. I think age and experience has taught me to trust the process and to carry through despite such doubts about relevance, skill level or (in this case) my understanding of Blake’s gorgeously bombastic, prophetic poem.
These blog posts have been an integral part of this exhibit’s creation. Thanks to all who have been following and commenting.
My art show goes up in a week and now the most difficult part has arrived–the Artist’s Statement. But in this odious task, which I’ve always dreaded, I may have a small advantage. I’ve actually been working on it since I began this series, some three months ago. I only need glean the relevant bits from my blog posts and tidy them up. Right.
Blake saw Albion (universal Man) held in deadly sleep, in thrall to satanic, scientific-materialism that separated him from Jerusalem, his emanation, and the Heaven within himself.
The Gnostics taught that soul is imprisoned in matter; that Gnostic experience is a return to Divinity through overcoming the demonic forces (Archons) who hold humanity in bondage to dense spheres of matter. These teachings informed much of Blake’s work.
His work also reflects the Neoplatonic doctrine that acknowledges the primacy of the spiritual world and sees nature as the “vegetable glass” reflecting spiritual truths. Post-Cartesian science that recognizes only natural phenomenon perceived by the senses as sole measure of truth is the fundamental error which precipitated Jerusalem’s’s fall.
Jerusalem tells of Los’s struggles with Urizen (reasoning power) to re-establish harmony among the four Zoas (universal, four-fold man,) and the building of Golganooza, Los’s great city of art and science.
…and fourfold the great City of Golganooza: fourfold to the north ,
And toward the south fourfold & fourfold toward the east & west,
Each within the other toward the four points: that toward
Eden, and that toward the World of Generation.
The Zoa’s correspond with the four Buddha families who inhabit the vast edifice of spiritual architecture in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
…at the northern gate of one’s skull is Vajra, Dark green, snake headed, and holding a bell.
O you, the four female gatekeepers…
Perform the rites which obstruct the doors leading to rebirth from the intermediate state!
Like the Buddhist masters, Blake saw that salvation lay in the recognition that God, Angels and Demons reside in the mind. Christ’s resurrection was not a single event of time, unique to a single individual, but as expression of the universal Christ-spirit within. This interiorization of the mysteries is part of the evolution of consciousness and the realization of the Divine Human. For Blake, Jesus is imagination, and lamented “Abstract thought warring against imagination.” The tragic effects of Urizen’s reign were evident in the squalor and slavery of the London cityscape where was enacted the cosmic drama of spiritual redemption.
Los is the fiery, artistic genius whose task is to restore Jerusalem and re-establish harmony among conflicting aspects of Albion; an inner kingdom that has been usurped by the soul-denying power of Urizen. The soul divided into warring entities is a sign that Albion has fallen into a sleep that closes the doors of spiritual perception. Caretaker of archetypal images, and fluent in the language of correspondences, Los forges celestial links in his fiery furnace, and illuminates the inner, demonic specters that would banish Jerusalem forever.
Strange. For all my efforts to loosen up, I seem to be heading in a more classical direction. When solid form threatens to vanish in an atmospheric haze, I recall Blake’s admonition to delineate everything a solid line. William Turner advised enclosing all shapes with a glowing red line that can move easily from cool shadow into warm, brilliant light. Gauguin used this technique to unify his compositions and bind his luxuriant forms to the picture plane.
Here, I use it to construct Blake’s towering edifice of Golganooza, whose:
…stones are pity, and the bricks, well wrought affections Enamell’d with love and kindness & the tiles engraven gold, Labour of merciful hands..
This Golganooza is built with primary colors on a scaffold of charcoal lines set along the Golden Mean proportion. The challenge is to integrate illusory depth with the shapes on the flat surface into a dynamic, interwoven whole. This is what makes it so complicated.
Painting doesn’t proceed only with big, creative leaps by the likes of a Picasso or Pollack. There is also a slow evolutionary process at work, and painting, like any other discipline, moves toward ever higher levels of complexity.
The dichotomy between abstraction and realism is a false one. It’s all abstract in a sense. What is bad is intellectual, materialist abstraction devoid of feeling and humanity–removed from art’s most exalted purpose:
To open Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity ever expanding in the Bosom of God: the Human Imagination!
My commitment to chronicle the art making process requires I relate all, from the most difficult stretches, to my modest successes. The muse is fickle and I am negotiating a dry spell. Here is a belated post to let you know I’m still hanging in there
I had been working the raw umber, paynes gray and burnt sienna into a web of interwoven strokes. That night, in a dream, I saw an ancient ziggurat carved in natural sandstone and honey-combed with caves. As I looked at its golden, weathered form rising into the vivid, blue sky, I realized it was a dream. It was a fleeting glimpse of profound emptiness–the ultimate ground of reality. In that insubstantial image I apprehended the Heart Sutra’s most essential teaching: Form is Emptiness/Emptiness is no other than Form.
I don’t claim this as a great accomplishment, but I do like that the process of painting inspired dream imagery and the dream, in turn, redirected the painting.
The image was also inspired by a program about early Christianity I’d seen that night. The film showed the mountain, hermit caves where the Nag Hamadi collection of early Gnostic writings were found.
The Gnostics taught that soul is imprisoned in matter; that Gnostic experience is a return to the pure light of Divinity through overcoming demonic forces (Archons) whose job it is to hold humanity in bondage to the dense spheres of matter.
While I may not share this belief in the malign aspect of the natural world, I do believe these teachings form a part of our spiritual heritage. They have left psychic imprints upon the collective unconscious. It is not so much a matter of belief as that of experience–Gnossis.
Various reasons are put forward for the fall of Sophia from the upper spheres and her plunge into the world of matter…(in one version) the tragedy occurred when she mistook the false light she saw below for the ‘light of lights’ for which she aspired…
In some texts she represents…the stricken city of Jerusalem.
Art often requires tactics that subvert one’s own assumptions in order to create the one image that is to the point, heartfelt, and true.
This one is a mess. The possibility of failure is always present. It is a perpetual letting go– of tricks, habits and even those pretty passages that no longer serve the whole.
This exhibit started with an idea about altars or memory stations. It is an attempt to combine my art with an interest in Blake in a way that helps me understand this eccentric genius and gives my own work greater depth.
The painting shows a stone wall with a niche in which is placed an image inspired by one of Blake’s Persian looking Angels. Carved into the stone wall is a willow tree that arches over the niche and breaks into space. The sun, etched into the wall, spreads beams of light over the canvas.
The next painting is of Vala, Jerusalem’s shadow, whose veil obscures the celestial light, and seduces Albion away from Jerusalem’s pure spiritual beauty.
Know me now, Albion: Look upon me. I alone am beauty. The imaginative human form is but the breathing of Vala. I breathe him forth into the Heaven from my secret Cave, born of the Woman to obey the Woman, O Albion the mighty. For the Divine appearance is Brotherhood, but I am love.
Francis Yates, in The Art of Memory, tells how Giulio Camillo reinvented memory art in accordance with the renewed interest in Neoplatonism. Camillo’s conception was also inspired by the recently rediscovered teachings of Hermetic philosophy which his friend, Marcilio Ficino had introduced into Renaissance Italy with his translation of the Corpus Hermeticism.
Ficino inspired Camillo in the use of astral talismans to draw down celestial influences into memory images and infuse them with magic power. This imaginative reinvention of memory art was meant to train the mind to receive celestial influences and unify esoteric knowledge by holding an inner image that mirrored the celestial harmony.
The Corpus Hermeticum taught the essential divinity of man and that all phenomena have their origin in the realm of ideas (archetypes.) Camillo’s theatre enabled the “viewer” to recall these first causes, and the essential relationship between man (microcosm,) and the world (macrocosm.)
The first level of manifestation was mediated by the 7 Governors. These astral beings made up the 7 measures by which the interior man descends into creation, acquires a body whose parts fall subject to the dominion of the zodiac, before he reascends through the heavenly spheres. It is through the Hermetic religious experience he regains his innate divinity. The 7 governors have associations with the known planets, 7 days of creation, angelic hierarchy and the lower sephiroth.
Yates says that the greatness of Renaissance art was largely due to perfect proportion that was in accord with celestial harmony. Seen in this light, the grace and majesty of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is a result of her status as talisman.