Cosmic Christ Transfigured

In the July seminar at Whitecliffe College of Art and Design I exhibited for assessment two paintings. Today I would like to contemplate and discuss the painting of Cosmic Christ Transfigures on Mars.

Cosmic Christ
G. Barnes. ‘Cosmic Christ Transfigures on Mars’ (Egg tempera and gold leaf on gesso, 45cm x 60cm)

This egg tempera painting on gesso board is a synthesis of two primary images. The Christ figure is from a byzantine sacred icon of ‘The Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor’ and the landscape is appropriated from a NASA photo taken from their robot ‘Spirit’ as it travels across the terrain of the planet Mars.

Today, August the 6th, is the feast day of The Transfiguration in the Orthodox Church calendar. It is one of their principal feasts, and plays an important role in the Eastern Orthodox faith, as in this event Christ’s two natures are made clearly visible. In front of human witnesses – Christ exchanges his earthly form for his divine form and then returns to his earthly form. ‘According to the doctrine of Hesychasm the light which Christ radiated on Mount Tabor is eternal and is visible through reflection and introspection.’ (Roozemond-Van Ginhoven, p. 25)

Hesychia is the stillness and silence of inward prayer – waiting upon God in emptiness and quietness. Putting aside human thoughts and words. Also the original intention of the word metanoeo (the unfortunate word ‘repent’ is mainly used in English translations).

The gospels spell it out thus:

And Christ was transfigured before them (Peter, James and John): and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was as white as the light. … [Peter then expressed how good it was to be there and naively suggested perhaps they build some sort of altar??! GB]  … While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I Am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were sore afraid,” (Matt 17:2-7, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36)

In my painting I have deferred from the original byzantine expression, with all the characters involved (see below) in order to focus on the sole figure and eternal moment of Transfiguration as expressed through the image of Christ. I have situated this event upon a landscape in the cosmos which no human eyes have beheld, or is likely to ever behold – in the camera we trust, just as in the enduring Archetype we may also trust. We are missing witnesses from the Transfiguration event, as we also we do not have verifiable witnesses of the planet Mars. The witness has become you, as you contemplate. Whether you trust the account of Mars, or the vision of the Godhead – is up to you.

The Transfiguration was not a phenomenon circumscribed in time and space; Christ underwent no change at that moment, even in His human nature, but  change occurred in the awareness of the apostles, who for a time received the power to see their Master as He was, resplendent in the eternal light of the Godhead.’ (Lossky, p. 223)

5_big_aidan
Aidan Hart. “Transfiguration’

This cosmic Christ is a fully aware Being – a Human clothed in uncreated Glory  – It was Light that the apostles saw – eternal, infinite, existing outside space and time. It is divine and uncreated. Terrifying and unbearable to the apostles, being so foreign to human nature. Only one character within the Judaic-Christian revelations was never ever struck down and blinded by this Light when revealed – and that is the underrated figure of Mary Magdalene – certainly a subject for another painting!

Revealing himself through His creative ‘thought-wills’, God can be known in creatures and by means of creatures, but He can also be known immediately by mystical contemplation, in His uncreated energies which are the splendour of His face. It is thus, in His Godhead, that Christ appeared to the apostles on Mount Tabor, and it is thus that He makes Himself known to the saints who detach themselves from all created things, renouncing all finite knowledge in order to attain to union with God …. We are reminded here of the ecstasy of St. Benedict of Nursia, who saw the whole universe as if it had been gathered together into a beam of the divine light. (Lossky, p. 99)


Dionysius the Areopagite, also spoke of ‘rays of divinity’. He is a fascinating figure from the very early days of Christian revelation, (in either the 1st or 4th century – there is debate about the time he wrote). Dionysius wrote of the creative powers which penetrate throughout the universe, and make themselves known, not through any created being, but by an interior light. His work primarily questions the ability to represent God in a material way. On further reading of his work, one is led to think that images of the Godhead, sacred icons, and other human representations of Divinity must have abounded at the time. Possibly most of these images were destroyed during the iconoclasm?

And when we have received, with immaterial and unflinching mental eyes, the gift of Light, primal and super-primal, of the supremely Divine Father, which manifests to us the most blessed Hierarchies of the Angels in types and symbols, let us then, from it, be elevated to its simple splendour  ….  For it is not possible that the supremely Divine Ray should otherwise illuminate us, except so far as it is enveloped, for the purpose of instruction, in variegated sacred veils, and arranged naturally and appropriately, for such as we are, by paternal forethought. (Dionysius, Ch.1 Sc. 1)

Surely these ‘rays’ penetrate the entire solar system? And yet they are variegated, veiled – for our safety perhaps. And as we humans make our fledging and clumsy explorations of space – we only learn how little it is that we know for sure. The universe does not shed her veils easily either. But this is actually the essence of it – the Transfiguring Christ and the photo of a Mars Landscape are both mysterious encounters. Heaven intersecting Creation. Positioning this intersection on Mars requires us to blow apart the Heaven and Earth dichotomy we have grown up with, and enables us to swing our brains around differently. Because – up there – is also ‘earth’ or Creation. It requires us to look elsewhere for ‘heaven’ – and not just UP. Heaven is within us? All around, embedded in the fabric of  space. Creation is Matter /Elements. Is Heaven is the Space/Energy in between?

What is a mystery? A mystery is something that is ‘revealed for our understanding, but which we can never understand exhaustively.’ It leads us into the depth, and into the darkness of God. ‘The eyes are closed – but they are also opened’ (Ware, p. 15). Bishop Kallistos Ware also refers to a term which helps me to fathom this way of unknowing which he calls ‘thick darkness’ or ‘dazzling darkness.’  I think humanity also fathoms space in the same light (darkness). The plethora of strange worlds and alien creatures we have invented to inhabit the cosmos is a measure of the impenetrability of the universe.

Why is this starting to sound like a sermon? Well, I think the work of the artist is indeed the same as the theologian.  We are trying to describe transcendence and find a way to express the mysterious tremendum. Is this also the work of that modern invention – the Contemporary Artist? We heard from two contemporary artists during the seminar whose practise is also one of exploring mystery.

During the seminar, artist and conjuror, Dane Mitchell spoke of his art as a means to ‘invoke some unseen thing; and to ‘illuminate illuminations.’ He talked of ‘mystic states’ and ‘revelation vs. concealment.’ The language of a theologian practising art – surely? But while Mitchell provides the ‘containers’ of the artwork, in the form of glass cases, white rooms or boxes – he employs mystic practitioners to fill them up with ghosts, hauntings, and other unseen presences. He specifies the time and place – but the artwork is ‘activated’ by the rituals of practitioners who have already built gateways to the etheric realm.

Mitchell is not the conjuror, he is merely the means by which the conjuring is revealed. He is not even providing a tunnel, or a path, or a window to this world. But a box. Mitchell encapsulates everything in containment, creating well defined boundaries in order to confine. Borders provide the security of a spatial fastening to the tangible – is it only within the cognizant spatial borders of our lives that we feel safe? An etheric world of ghosts and hauntings without boundary is truly terrifying, indeed probably the stuff that mythologies of Hell are built upon. His practise seems to be an exercise in terror remediation – a kind of dampening down rather than an opening up of theological enquiry.

Australian media artist Grant Stevens confessed to being afraid of the ‘power of the image’ early in his career and so he abandoned it in favour of text, primarily animated cosmic clusters of text in video projections. Nevertheless, and contrarily, he is quite unafraid to explore raw authentic human emotion. His work deals with issues of love and loss, annoying mental thoughts, sanity, death. At once very profound, and also quite banal. Is he trying to go beyond the ‘supermundane’, as Dionysius calls it, of symbol and image, and raise our mind to a contemplation of heavenly things without ‘material guidance’ – beyond the imitation?

Wherefore, the Divine Institution of sacred Rites, having deemed it worthy of the supermundane imitation of the Heavenly Hierarchies, and having depicted the aforesaid immaterial Hierarchies in material figures and bodily compositions, in order that we might be borne, as far as our capacity permits, from the most sacred pictures to the instructions and similitudes without symbol and without type, transmitted to us our most Holy Hierarchy. For it is not possible for our mind to be raised to that immaterial representation and contemplation of the Heavenly Hierarchies, without using the material guidance suitable to itself,’ (Dionysius, Ch1)

Is it possible to do this? Dionysius suggests it is not. Can we depict transcendence without material figures and bodily compositions, to have revelation without symbol, without type? What is that then???!  It’s quite a journey for an artist, who is up to it? I will continue to wrestle with the Image, and I will banish all borders in the Dark. : )

‘The darkness is not the absence of light, but the terror that comes from blinding light.’ Jacob Boehme

‘... every procession of illuminating light, proceeding from the Father, whilst visiting us as a gift of goodness, restores us again gradually as an unifying power, and turns us to the oneness of our conducting Father, and to a deifying simplicity.’ Dionysius

REFERENCES

Dionysius the Areopagite, Works (1899) The Celestial Hierarchy. Vol. 2. p.1-66.

Lossky, Vladimir (1976) The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. St Vladimirs Seminary Press: New York

Roozemond-Van Ginhoven, Hetty J. (1980) Ikon: Inspired Art. De Wijenburgh: Netherlands.

Ware, Bishop Kallistos (1979) The Orthodox Way. St Vladimirs Seminary Press: New York

Rare Creatures

G. Barnes, 2013. 'Cosmic Christ Transfigures on Mars'
G. Barnes, 2013. ‘Cosmic Christ Transfigures on Mars’

I have started a painting – it features a byzantine Christ transfigured on a Moon landscape. I’m thinking of calling it “Rare Creatures”. It is in all respects a ‘Cosmic Christ’ I suppose, although that intention was never explicit in my thinking through the design. That, in one of those lovely ‘oh yeah’ moments, comes later….  The Cosmic Christ is a mystical archetype most succinctly expressed by one of my favourite theologians, Fr. Matthew Fox, who also reiterates one of my favourite female artists – Hildegarde of Bingen:

… the “Cosmic Christ Archetype” is a universal way of seeing the world. The Cosmic Christ Archetype is a way of seeing the splendour and divine grace in all things. Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century Christian mystic, said, “Every creature is a glittering mirror of divinity.” In terms of John’s gospel, this is the light of Christ in every creature.

If I try to relate in terms of today’s sciences, I think of photons (a tiny indivisible quantity of electromagnetic energy). We know that there are photons in every atom, in every being. Therefore, the Cosmic Christ is the divine radiance that’s present in every galaxy, in every star, every porpoise, every blade of grass, and every human. (see http://www.christpathseminar.org/who-is-the-cosmic-christ/)

Universal archetypes are under threat today. Religious fundamentalism exploits them for its own dubious reasons, modern science continues to expand, evolve and fragment – forgetting the intitial unifying impulse, and even capitalism has nearly totally divorced itself from it’s ‘real’ foundation (gold). We live in slippery times, in a post-nihilist modernity that  ‘unabashedly rejects discourses motivated by sentimental allusions to universals’ (Archive Fire; Nihilism)

The advent of hypermediation via communication and digital technologies has combined with what Ray Brassier has called “the negative consummation of the enlightenment”, as well as the ever-expanding assaults on the living flesh and ecological stability of humans everywhere to create a crisis of legitimacy for every existing linguistic and normative institution on the planet. We do not inhabit a modern or even ‘postmodern’ world, we subsist in an advanced industrial calamity. (see http://www.archivefire.net/search/label/nihilism)

While I think the sentence ‘we subsist in an advanced industrial calamity’ is a beautifully framed phrase that nicely sums up our current state of being, here in 2013, and approaching the brink of several ecological collapses  – I personally reject the entire nihilist framework.

We, as artists, have I believe heightened sensitive instincts – and these should be trusted. So when I read this above, and then the following below – I look to what lightens my soul. Matthew Fox goes on to say how the Cosmic Christ archetype can be employed to help ‘save the environment:’

…it is not about duty; it’s about pleasure and delight. That the earth is a garden, radiating with a divine presence. When it is in danger, it is like the crucified Christ; the compelling urgency here is born out of the experience of beauty and grace, not out of duty. Beauty and grace inspire us to let go of our lifestyles that are hostile to the health of the environment, and to recreate our lives in terms of politics, economics, education, worship, all of it. So that’s one of the practical implications—in terms of the ecological crisis, it gets us moving and awake. (Fox; Cosmic Christ)

Moving, and awake. Compared with the ‘post-nihilist’ environmental strategy:

The future of our species will depend entirely upon the willingness of people to abandon our previous and varied delusions for intensely reflective strategies of praxis and collective habitation. We have to design new delusions for vastly more pragmatic ecologies.

‘Beauty and grace’ or ‘new delusions’? I’m a simple soul, I listen to what is ‘enlivening’. When I begin to read some writers of this ‘nihilistic epoch’ – the post-modern and post-structuralist writers who have rejected theism – I find that a small greyness descends.

I avoid the grey; in search of colour –  verdaccio and subtle glazes of blue and green.

 

The VEIL and ICONS IN SPACE

Retrieving a dusty copy of “The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross” from my shelf, I read:

“The less distinct is their understanding of him, the closer they approach him, as Prophet David says: he made darkness his hiding place [Ps. 18:1.1] Thus in drawing near him you will experience darkness because of the weakness of your eye. You do well then, at all times, in both adversity and prosperity, whether spiritual or temporal, to consider God as hidden, and call after him thus: “Where have you hidden, Beloved?” (St. John of the Cross, p. 483)

St John, a Spanish Carmelite monk (1542-1591), postulates that the bosom of the Father, the divine essence, is alien to every mortal eye and hidden from every human intellect. This is called ‘negative theology’ – a theology where God is beyond all that exists and that it is by unknowing that one may know Him, by drawing near to the Unknown in the darkness of complete ignorance. A first century Christian mystic, Dionysius the Areopagitic (a disciple of St Paul) first put up the concept:

“For even as light, and especially abundance of light, renders darkness invisible; even so the excess of knowledge, destroys the ignorance which is the only way by which one can attain to God himself.”(Lossky; 1944, p. 25)

Wonderful dichotomy; beautiful and mysterious. Satisfying the dark and the morbid, as well as the craving and the light of my soul – all at the same time. Considering these themes, (as well as one can in a busy urban contemporary life!), led me to wonder how one might draw God, as part of my Sacred Art investigation, if he is thus Unknowable? Obviously – to really understand this requires a lifetime of mystic reflective work – which is just not practical in my life at present. This is why I love being an artist. We are practical beings. We make stuff. Things that can express half formed ideas and pre-conceptions. So, this led me to two practical and physical concepts to work with – the VEIL, and GOD IN SPACE.

1. THE VEIL: Painting it, using it to cover, to hide, to suppress. It’s seductive power – our longing to see what’s beneath. Repression of desire and and subversion of rampant voyuerism. The ‘covered image’ has another voice, beyond the voice the ‘image’ has – what is hidden and why? Another story is created.

I stumbled across this beautiful photographic exhibition of Robert Stivers called Veiled Images at the Akron Art Muesuem (Akron Art Museum; 2012)”. A reviewer, Starr, comments “—we pass back and forth between historical periods; we are sometimes left between them, or in a zone freed of chronological placement all together.” (Starr: 2012)

“This search for context ultimately drives the whole show. It’s Stivers’ device for turning us in upon ourselves, because the only context that we’ll find is the one we create as we follow the numbered sequence of surprising images that leads us around the room.” (Starr, 2012)

Robert Stivers, Head in Mirror, 2002. Toned gelatin print, 20 x16 in. Gift of Noemi and Daniel Mattis, Akron Art Museum. Courtesy, Akron Art Museum

I like the idea of a story within the shadows. That context isn’t made immediately obvious, that there is a mystery to be uncovered. This was encouraging – maybe in this way I can present work that travels between histories, between realms, revealing hidden desires.

During the exhibition of my work in April, I received comments that they were ‘intimate’, that people were excited to be able to get up close to ‘history’, to see something usually reserved for musuems. There was a desire to view and examine.

“art tempts its audience with desires to come closer, to inhabit or to possess the art they see and admire.” (Starr, 2012)

Perhaps I could subvert this desire by preventing close examination, by hiding the beauty of these strange little ‘windows to heaven’, close it up with a veil, allowing only a peek – to tempt desire? Maybe.

According to Polish theologian and architect, Jerzy Uácinowicz, the revival of Christian icons began in the early 20th century, when old ones were ‘wiped clean of their historical dust’ to reveal a ‘feast of colours’:

“Once again it became the “window to eternity”,a glimpse into the other world. There was no “curtain” covering it any more. There was no black.” (Uácinowicz; 2010)

Not sure how that relates, but there it is. I’m not sure about this line of inquiry, although I have downloaded alot of fascinating literature on the veil. If I have time, I will revisit this.

2. GOD IN SPACE. In an expressionist splurge on photoshop I have designed a series of four large paintings of ‘Icons in Space.’ They are a ‘mash-up’ of worlds that I love. Loving the landscapes of Mars, Moon and Venus and other science fiction themes, ie the skies of deep space, and also the beauty of the byzantine figure. I will enjoy working on these, and hope to finish them by July. I’m not going to show you the designs online, you’ll have to visit me in my Christchurch studio if you want to see them… : )

REFERENCES (to be completed)

Lossky; 1944

“The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross”

Starr, 2012. Review of Veiled Images at the Akkron. Rretrieved from http://starr-review.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/robert-stivers-veiled-images-at-akron.html

Uácinowicz, Jerzy; 2010. NEW LIFE OE ICONS IN ARCHITECTURE: APPLICATIONS VERSUS SYNTHESIS. Faculty of Architecture of Biatystok University of Technology: Bialystok, Poland.

The Assumption of the Golden Record

G. Barnes, (2013) ChristCrack: Angel in Time. Unfinished
G. Barnes, (2013) ChristCrack: Angel in Time. [Unfinished]
In my artwork I have been layering materials, seeing into cracks, peeling back surfaces, exposing origin layers of ‘chaos’ beneath the paint – perhaps trying to get to the bottom of something ‘hidden'(?). And then conversely I have also been painting traditional sacred medieval icons, where the revelation of God is open, ‘present,’ revealed – where there are no ‘shadows,’ where heaven is directly engaged, where the large eyes of saints and prophets and saviours stare boldly, directly, unashamedly into our own broken souls. A sacred icon painter once referred to his practice as ‘wrestling with icons’ – and I can understand why. They force the ‘painter of God’ to examine deeply his own relationship with the divine realm.

IMG_1508
G. Barnes, (2013). “Origin Orante – She Whose Womb contains Him Whom even the Heavens cannot Contain.”

An artist who has consciously decided to ‘Paint God’ is forced to ask at every step ~ can it be done?

I wonder if it is inbetween these places of light and dark, in the boundaries between the ‘hidden/shadow’ and the ‘revelation/present’ that is the most interesting place to seek and work. This place, between the darkness and the light, is full of richness ~ tis neither one nor the other. I can swing on the fringes of God’s robe and explore! In this place I can see God in Everything, and love the ritual and mystery of the Church, but I can also look and see God Nowhere – I can even say that forbidden word – Atheist – and honestly ask that question – does God exist? A real problem, because the tiny kernel of faith I possess is always, immediately, and simultaneously confronted with a mammoth terror – the scientific statistical possibility of our aloneness on earth. Our little blue planet, in an eternal galactic dark. I wonder where is God hiding in all this? I think it’s a great place to start ~ with terror ~ the Terror of Aloneness. The terror is real and faith reflected in that dark, is somehow more colourful, with multi-dimensional possibilities.

This video, a slightly mediated compilation of found footage primarily from NASA, is my response to the pathos of the human condition: The deep loneliness we all share, alone here on this Earth. We send our greetings out to the aliens in space, in every language, reaching out in a vain, almost comedic hope of NOT being alone. We share our music, images, codes, formulas, science. This probe has been travelling for over 40 years, it is only just leaving the solar system, about to enter interstellar space. This is the farthest physical reach into space of all known humanity. Two bits of space junk. It is a bit sad, slightly pathetic. But actually if we were to accept this ‘aloneness’ of humanity as a uniting force, as husbands of the Earth and all her creatures – then I feel that maybe we would appreciate how important is is for us to ‘just get along’ a bit better perhaps? Take some responsibility.

G. Barnes, (2013) Origin Orante Alone: She Whose Womb contains Him Whom even the Heavens cannot Contain. [tempera and gold, unfinished]
G. Barnes, (2013) Origin Orante – Alone
Beyond that, the more we learn of our world, our cosmos and the creation – the bigger God gets. If God is truly ‘beyond all that exists’ as early Christian mystic, Dionysius the Areopagite would say, then He is truly immeasurable. Yet if God IS all that exists – then likewise – immeasurable. The question then for us artists is this: Where is God that He can be drawn?

“One must abandon all that is impure and even all that is pure. One must scale the most sublime heights of sanctity leaving behind you all the divine luminaries, all the heavenly sounds and words. It is only thus that one may penetrate to the darkness wherein He who is beyond all created things makes his dwelling” (Dionysius the Areopagite; sourced from Lossky; 1944, p. 27)

Yet it is the journey that is key. Our desire for assumption into the unknown. Our wish to travel between realms. This is the place we can dwell, and explore. The place artists inhabit ~ at least until revelation.

FURTHER READING

Lossky, Vladimir (1944). The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: New York.

Between the Hidden and the Revelation

In my artwork I have been layering materials, seeing into cracks, peeling back surfaces, exposing origin layers of ‘chaos’ beneath the paint – perhaps trying to get to the bottom of something ‘hidden’. And I have also been painting traditional sacred medieval icons, where the revelation of God is open, ‘present,’ revealed – where there are no ‘shadows,’ where heaven is directly engaged, where large eyes of saints and prophets stare boldly, directly, unashamedly into our own broken souls. Creating sacred objects that have a long established formal communication regarding God and faith.

“Angel of Time” [Work in progress]
But I think it is in between theses places, in the boundary between the ‘hidden’ and the ‘revelation’ – that’s where I want to work.

SOME THOUGHTS ON SHARED INTEREST GROUPS & JOE BLOGGS

POST APRIL MFA SEMINAR: LOCAL/GLOBAL

Sometimes ‘Art’ speaks to just a few people. Given the technology we have, and our ability to be very selective about what we view, it is to be expected. Although Art maybe GLOBAL, our audience is actually very SELECTIVE.

The issue of diverging audiences is confronting other media, especially television. Audiences are leaving free-to-air public television networks in droves, as they turn their attention to the niche, the selected, the preferred – they seek out only what interests them. I’ve made television for the ubiquitous ‘common man’ for years. Conversations, usually with producers, in the editing room tended to go along the lines of: “Will the man on the street understand that?” or “You have to unpack that statement Gaylene, because Joe Bloggs won’t know what you’re talking about” and “Remember you have to assume that the viewer knows nothing.” Television is a generalist medium most of the time, therefore it is made for the ‘lowest common denominator,’ therefore there is alot that always remains unsaid. All of the wonderful mysteries and vagueness, the random and the weird – the stuff of artists – all that is usually left in the ether of Final Cut Pro.   I won’t miss Joe Bloggs, but I hope he has found a nice home somewhere!

The short film I made last year ‘The Mobile Meat Processing Unit’ has had an interesting global audience so far. It’s a complex animated film with many themes, some overstated and some understated – it seems to be finding a variety of niche audiences. In Australia they thought it was about Bad Parenting; in the Yukon they scheduled it late at night with other Horror films; in South Korea it is scheduled to play in a Green Film festival about Climate Change; in Rome it will screen because of its aesthetic values of the Mash Up Remix animation. When I made the film – all these ideas were there, mixed up. So I’m happy when a curator and an audience takes out of my film just what has meaning to them.

“Our Lady of the Wall Icon.” On the Palestinian side of the Israeli separation wall – keeping a shared interest group in, and out.

I’m interested in the audience of Art, at the moment I’m thinking particularly about the audience of the contemporary sacred icon. Some people find a huge amount of meaning in them. Some people don’t. They are something of a mystery. “Some see them as insignificant, flat, dark, primitive pieces of religious art and wonder at their popularity, while others regard them as a door into the divine realm and a means by which they can enter more deeply into their own interior life.” (McCormick; Episcopal News Service) I am fascinated by the individual responses to icons.  When a man weeps in front of one of my paintings – there is something powerful there. And more so, because there is no intention to manipulate emotions.

The contemporary byzantium (oxymoron – I know!) sacred icon is an artform appreciated by a shared interest group, mostly religious, but interestingly enough – not all those who seek them out are of a specific Christian denomination. They are called ‘windows to heaven’ and there are now alot of artists painting them: Aidan Hart, Philip Davydov and Olga Shalamova, Father Patrick, Ian Knowles, David Clayton, Maria Sigalas-Spanopoulos and Nikolas Spanopoulos, Adrian Iurco, to name a few. Even anonymous artists in studios – where the work is not signed by an individual: St John of the Baptist and Sancti Angeli Benedictine Skete Icon Studio.

Artist Judy Millar supplied us with a metaphor of the paper clip and the dollar note. One is always useful (paper clip), while the dollar note is only useful because it has an agreed value. That agreed value is defined by local groups of individuals, not a universal collective. A NZ $100 bill is useless in Spain. Agreed value is locally constructed, and outside of that – the value of it requires ‘education.’ I could explain to the Spanish waiter that he could take my $NZ100 to the bank and receive so many euro’s … etc. So is education necessary if one exhibits an artform that belongs to a shared interest group? When I visited the NSW art gallery recently I became enthralled by the Aboriginal dreamtime paintings both contemporary and older. Aboriginal artists explicitly state that this art, this ‘dreaming’ is for them – it’s not for me to understand at all:

When Anangu people paint, they are putting down old stories from their country.  The Tjukurpa (Dreaming/Law) that Anangu tell on the canvas is their real story.  But part of that story they do not tell.  That is the story hidden deep inside the canvas.  They don’t reveal it because it is sacred Tjukurpa.  They keep it for their own people.  These sacred stories come from ancestors, when people travelled from rock-hole to rock-hole, sacred site to sacred site.  There are secrets that people can’t talk about in their canvas because big Tjukurpa is really deeply inside Anangu, it is Anangu.” (Frank Young, Amata Community)

I can look at them, and appreciate them, but never understand them the way the Amata Community do. I feel slightly disappointed that I am not privy to their deep secrets … but nevertheless, I can imagine the secrets, and feel that perhaps I catch a glimpse of it? It still satisfies a need to go beyond.

It is interesting how Art sometimes works to define GROUPS, and to keep others OUT. But then again, hasn’t Modern Art been doing that for years? There is a certain degree of ‘education’ and language that is required; modes of engagement that we are currently being taught which enables us to enter into the ‘secrets’ of (parts) of the Art World. Artists, art students, art critics – we all know what’s going on. But Joe Bloggs – who is still watching some public television with his one good eye (or fantasy films) – he is OUT.

I spoke to an icon painter recently and and heard those words again “I paint for the Common Man.” Mmmn.  Has Joe Bloggs left the couch and is now turning his other eye to a pre-Art form? I wonder about the current revival of such old-fashioned, pre-renaissance painting – as modern artists around the world forgo an engagement with the Art World in order to paint mere ‘copies’ – often anonymously within studios. I  wonder if it could actually be a veiled conversation with Modern Art – a response to the tangled loop of self-reflection in post-modernism, or to the celebrity ego-artist of modernism, or to the ‘activist’ overtake of art perhaps? It’s probably most likely to be simply because of a long neglected spiritual need that is currently not being met by modern media. Nevertheless, Joe and his buddies still visit galleries – they are looking for something.

REFERENCES

McCormick, Kathryn, 2000. “Episcopal Life” magazine. Retrieved from http://www.carringtonsacredart.com/press.html

Young, Frank. 2011. Exhibition Statement “Nganampa Kampatjanka Uungutja – Behind Our Canvas” Tjala Arts, Amata Community.  Retreived from http://aboriginalartandculture.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/tjukurpa-anangu/

The Studio Desk: 4 April 2013

10 April 2013

DESK 1: CHRISTCRACK SERIES exploration continues – currently, I am involved with the materials:

The Gesso Ground – Cracked and blistered or sanded and smooth? Carved and scratched or burnished like marble? I’ve added china clay and ground up egg shells to the standard whiting and rabbit skin glue mix. I have also experimented with agate burnished cracked gold on hessian and muslin, with interesting results that I am still deciding whether I like.

The gesso surface is an important part of the process in the construction of a sacred artefact. Made with sacramental matter/materials – animal (rabbit skin glue, chalk, calcium) and organic (wood, h20, clay). Transformed via mysterious alchemic processes – from millions of years as diatoms become chalk, to five minutes as rabbit skin becomes glue. It is the Base, it is the Luminous. The light is coming to the viewer from within the image, and not just reflecting off it. ‘This luminosity is vital for iconography, because the way an icon is painted should mirror the paradisiacal world that it depicts … radiant with the light of its Creator and Sustainer.’ (Hart, A; p. 130) Also, the gesso can be seen as the Created Light, while the gold mirrors the Uncreated Light.

I am also experimenting with the shape of the ‘crack’ – which include squares, torn rectangles, and circles, as well as with the layering of gesso, gold, gesso again, etc… Plus the embossing of gold and the mixing of gold with tempera as in Sue Viner‘s work. I am yet to apply colour.  See gallery:

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DESK 2: SACRED ICONS

G. Barnes, 2013. Template Drawing 'St. Francis with Five New Zealand Birds' [graphite on paper].
G. Barnes, 2013. Template Drawing Detail ‘St. Francis with Five New Zealand Birds’ [graphite on paper].
I’m still painting (writing) the icon of the Platytéra – [the Mother on Earth who contains within Her womb the Creator of the Universe – Him whom even the Heavens cannot contain] Am thinking of a title. And also thinking of exhibiting it juxtaposed with moving image – the Apollo Titan rocket launch, for example.

I have also started an icon of St. Francis. It can’t be helped. He needs a voice.

DESK 3: MOVING IMAGE

My short film ‘The Mobile Meat Processing Unit’ is to screen in May in the Green Film Festival in Seoul, and also in MashRome in Italy. It had an outing in the Yukon two weeks ago. I watched it on a really really big massive screen in Hoyts two nights ago, with the new DCP protocol, and found myself thinking wistfully of new ideas for digital cinema – particularly derived works, using found footage…. TBC.

Opening the Cracks

RESPONSE TO ARTIST PRESENTATIONS
MFA Seminar, Jan, 2013.

A major inquiry of mine, while studying at Whitecliffe College of Art, is examining the latent desire and potential within Contemporary Art practice to be, or to become, Sacred. As I listened to the artist talks in the first MFA seminar (January 15-20th 2013), I began to immediately see the connections and possibilities of this already at work. Particularly artists Noel Ivanoff, Henry Symonds, and Mikala Dwyer – who all spoke generously of the details of their art work. They all seemed to share a common thread, in terms of their practise – which I’ll describe in rather general terms as having an element of sacred ritual.

From self proclaimed wiccan artist Mikala Dwyer’s séance sculptural circles, hovering ghosts and bauhaus ouija boards, to Noel Ivanoff and his intense colour field and ritual of painting construction, to Henry Symonds’ memory paintings and reverential still lives – they are all engaging in some sort of ritual – and potentially – a spiritual practise.

Artist Judy Millar also gave a thoughtful overview of the problems of contemporary art practise in our democratic, thoroughly capitalist and materialist world. The problem being that opportunities to speak beyond consumer capitalist culture, to ‘find the cracks’ – are unfortunately – not that great. She posits a solution offered by Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, (tbc) – he claims that ‘capitalism must be offset by an extremely rich spiritual life, otherwise passivity can take over, which is dangerous.’ This is a point that was also made a hundred years ago by artist Wassily Kandinsky:

“Only just now awakening after years of materialism, our soul is infected with the despair born of unbelief, of lack of purpose and aim. The nightmare of materialism, which turned life into an evil, senseless game, is not yet passed; it still darkens the awakening soul…. Our soul rings cracked when we sound it, like a precious vase, dug out of the earth, which has a flaw.” (Kandinsky, 1912, p. 24)

A large component of the discussions during the seminar – were how to subvert this passivity and find these cracks. And the artists role in being a ‘disruptive force’ in this ‘nightmare of materialism.’ Disruption can be positive – not just looking and taking about the obvious flaws and cracks in our culture. There are flaws aplenty – big fat gaping holes in fact – easy pickings. Rather than being reactive to obvious cracks, it may be more about being receptive to the veiled and more obscure tiny cracks in the boundaries of our existence. The mysterious, the mythical, the mystical, the spiritual – ie. the sacred. B. Richards, an author studying the importance of spirituality in technology, sums up his own and Kandinsky’s ideas thus:

Art is born from the inner necessity of the artist in an enigmatic, mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject, animated by a spiritual breath. During decadent periods, the soul sinks to the bottom of the pyramid; humanity searches only for external success, ignoring spiritual forces.” (Richards, 2010)

Three artists in particular – Ivanoff, Symonds, and Dwyer – who presented their works at the seminar are perhaps one of many contemporary artists who are looking beyond, finding the cracks, opening them, and letting in some light.

Noel Ivanhoff employs a rigorous painting practise, with a very controlled and considered methodology. His large Digit paintings were made by drawing his finger through wet paint with the help of a set square in precisely spaced lines. The result is an intense vibratory colour field painting, with a distinct series of textured lines. Each painting is in fact the result of a ‘ritual’. Perhaps in the same vein as an Aboriginal sand painting, or a Buddhist monk creating a Mandala  – it needed to be completed in one action, it required intense concentration, with an absence of distraction, along with physical bodily exertion as the body is forced to move in relation ro one rigid dominant finger.  The hand, the very finger, of the artist is all over these paintings. The performance of their construction, the technique, is in fact deeply and bodily ritualistic.

His use of colour is also cause for a ‘spiritual effect’, as Kandinsky might say.

… colour is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with it’s many strings. The artist is the hand that purposefully sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key.” (Kandinsky, 1912, p. 160)

The ‘key’ that Ivanoff has chosen is an intense orange yellow colour. Kandinsky writes that yellow has a ‘wild power’, that can be raised ‘to a pitch of intensity unbearable to the eye and to the spirit.’ Ivonoff’s yellow is softened with red/orange hues, and with a repetitive texture which subverts the intensity and creates a harmonic resonance, that may indeed speak directly to the soul. (Kandinsky, 1912, p. 181)

Painter Henry Symonds showed us his memory paintings – born from the memory of one painting in particular by Matisse that struck him instantly. He chose to paint in reverence of it using ‘memory’ only as his guide. Alexander Roob notes that in classical mystical antiquity memory was held to be the ‘mother of all muses’ (Roob, 1997, p. 573). By the time of the Renaisaance there was quite a polished technique for memory training. Renaissance author, R. Fludd, distinguished between a round and a square art of memory. The round art uses specific diagrams with which it seeks to draw down the celestial influences, while the square art uses real places and natural images. (R. Fludd as cited in Roob, 1997)

It’s fascinating to apply this mystic theory of memory to Symonds paintings. Which one of these memory ‘arts’ may have Symonds been employing? I suspect both. The square naturalistic memory was almost certainly consciously employed, as the colour is repeated, and certain aspects of the composition recalled. But I suspect that during his meditative moments – while painting the details, and fully involved in just the shape of the line or the movement of the paint – he was unconsciously painting ‘magically charged diagrams’ and calling down celestial influences – the ghost of Matisse perhaps?

Installation artist Mikala Dwyer confesses to an interest in ghosts since childhood, and has created ghost sculptures in many of her early installations. Her later work is unashamedly wiccan – séance circles, ouija board installations, and rhythmic drumming. She opens up windows to the unseen using ritual and magic, yet still keeping it playful. Her work is importantly interactive – inviting full body participation by the viewer. I would argue that interactivity, and art that is communal, is one of the key elements in sacred or spiritual art. She is fully aware of her role as ‘the artist as priest/witch’ and offers up spiritual ‘cracks’ which she invites the audience to explore – to be an active participant. Thus both artist and audience renounce passivity, and fully embrace dialogue beyond the culture of here and now, a dialogue with the spiritual.

The artist’s role as prophet, priestess, and spiritual ‘searcher’ of the ‘crack’ behind the veil, is one I’m interested in. It’s a positive way to subvert the prevalent consumerist economic dogma, especially in New Zealand and Australia, which are probably the most secular nations on Planet Earth. I think it’s something that most artists do instinctively, and perhaps in this way the art world can work alongside the religious world in offering ‘people strength, and a sensibility to defend themselves against consumerism.’ (Llosa, as cited by Judy Millar’s talk, 2012).

REFERENCES

Kandinsky, Wassily. (1912). On the Spiritual in Art, and Painting in Particular. Munich: R.Piper & Co.

Richards, B. (2012, November). Concerning the Spiritual in Art [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://soulsatisfyingtech.blogspot.co.nz /2010/11/concerning-spiritual-in-art.html

Roob, Alexander (1997) The hermetic museum : alchemy & mysticism. New York: Tashen.